Over $150,000 of lead-covered copper flashing was stolen from the north wall of Edgerton Park, leaving the century-old stone structure exposed to the destructive influence of freezing and thawing water for the remainder of the winter.
The New Haven parks department plans to replace the protective covering come spring. Meanwhile, the Hamden police are still on the look out for the perpetrator(s) of the copper heist.
The 25-acre public park straddles the East Rock / Hamden divide. Its northern wall faces the Lake Whitney Water Treatment Plant.
According to Hamden Police Public Information Officer Ronald Smith, town police responded to a call on Dec. 22, 2018 that a man wearing a tank top was removing metal sheathing from the top of the stone wall that runs along the northern end of Edgerton Park.
“He subsequently fled in a small ‘compact style’ vehicle,” Smith said about the burglar. “We have been unable to identify him.”
But this wasn’t a matter of snagging a small batch of precious metal, an Edgerton Park Conservancy board member told the Independent. Rather, the burglar or burglars managed to pry off lead-covered copper covering, or “flashing,” that stretched along the top of the entire northern wall, which is roughly a third of a mile long.
She said the neighboring South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority installed the metal covering in 2000 as a “good neighbor” initiative to protect the century-old wall from the deteriorating effects of water seeping into the mortar and eroding the concrete through freezing and thawing in cold weather. She said the water company spent $160,000 on the installation of the lead-copper covering nearly two decades ago. And now, all of that covering is gone.
“From my point of view,” said the board member, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation by the still-on-the-loose burglar(s), “this is a pretty major heist.”
New Haven Parks Director Becky Bombero told the Independent that the city parks department will replace the stolen metal flashing by this spring.
“Fortunately,” she stated by email, “we were in the process of awarding work on a previously bid section of the wall for repairs and capping.” So now the department is working with city engineers to change the scope of work order to include some kind of alloy flashing, and maybe even stone capping, for the recently denuded northern wall.
She said the replacement of the flashing should cost between $50,000 and $80,000, depending on if the city decides to add stone capping.
On a recent tour of the scene of the crime, the Edgerton Park Conservancy board member walked the Independent through how she came across the burglary late last year while out on her daily 9 a.m. dog walk.
She first noticed something was wrong on Dec. 19, when she saw found a window and a door open at the storage barn that stands between the northern wall and the park’s old carriage house. That barn used to house horses for a police mounted unit, Bombero said, before the unit was disbanded in 2008.
On that late December morning, the board member recalled, she found a pile of power equipment, including weed whackers and hedge trimmers, lying outside of the barn. She called the New Haven police, who she said came to the scene, inspected the barn, and determined that what she had found looked like a burglary interrupted.
On Dec. 22, walking along that same stretch of the park, the board member said she saw the barn door open yet again.
“That should be closed and locked,” she remembered thinking. This time, however, she didn’t see any power equipment lying in a pile of leaves. This time she saw a stream of water seeping out through the bottom of the door.
When she looked inside, she saw a washing machine on its side. The copper piping connecting the machine and a water heat, she said, was gone.
Then she looked behind the barn, and, a few pillars away, she saw a man wearing a red sports pinny standing on top of the wall, prying copper flashing off of the top with a crow bar.
She asked him what he was doing. “He goes, ‘I’m taking the metal off the wall,’” she said. She asked him why. He said his boss told him to, because the flashing needed to be repaired.
She asked who his boss was. He didn’t respond. The water company? She suggested. Yes, he replied.
She thanked him, went home, and called the police. Three Hamden cop cars arrived with sirens blaring, she remembered. The burglar with the crow bar managed to slip away before the cops got to the scene.
“This is one of the worst things that has happened to the park” since she joined the conservancy’s board several years ago, she said. “It’s gone. All gone.”
Without any kind of metal protectors, she said, water and snow will seep into the concrete and slowly erode the mortar. The other three walls are still protected by an aluminum alloy flashing installed by the city parks department, she said. She praised Bombero for prioritizing replacing the missing sheathing on the northern wall by thus spring.
“We do want to thank the conservancy for their stewardship and advocacy for the park,” Bombero told the Independent, “and the Hamden Police for their efforts in this case.”
This board member wasn’t the only Edgehill neighbor to notice something fishy in the Edgerton Park area in mid-December.
In an email conversation between members of the St. Ronan / Edgehill Neighborhood Assocaition, one neighbor recalled seeing a man on top of the north wall on the afternoon of Dec. 15.
“I walked to the stone alcove in the park where you can sit and stayed there for a few minutes,” she wrote on Jan. 28, 2019. “I saw a man on the top of the wall doing something. I decided he must be a volunteer from the neighborhood working on the wall. It didn’t occur to me anything was wrong, because it was early afternoon, and, mostly, I didn’t realize there was anything valuable to take. I remember it because it did seem odd. I was too far away to be able to recognize him.”
“It is hard to sell that much copper,” another neighbor noted in the email thread on Jan. 28. “It must be sold somewhere and the shapes should make it an easy find. The police undoubtedly can check all the scrap yards for this material given its shape. And then the scrap yards will have a record of being paid for an unusual amount of scrap copper sold to a consuming mill or melting and casting facility.”
Still another visited the northern wall after the burglary, and noted that that wall, unlike the southern, western, and eastern edges of the park, faces trees and the water company, rather than the street.
“Assuming we were in the right place,” she wrote, “we figured someone could have parked at that spot in the darkness and, with accomplices, slipped unnoticed down the line toward Whitney to remove the flashing, perhaps over several nights. Most of their work would easily have gone unnoticed.
“So many neighbors and friends of Edgerton have worked very hard over the years to protect the park and its walls and raise funds to repair and replace sections of the wall. It’s a big loss.”