HARPSWELL — Over the past month, thieves have been stealing returnables from the Harpswell Community Television bottle shed.
The shed, at the gate to the transfer station on Mountain Road, gives residents a convenient way to contribute to the TV station. In past years, the donations have netted the station close to $4,000, much of which is used to pay for utilities, according to Program Manager Donna Frisoli.
The recent thefts have deprived the station of more than $150 dollars, according to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the crime.
“It’s really hurting us financially,” Frisoli said.
The first person to notice the missing returnables was Don Torrey, who owns Don’s Redemption Center in Brunswick. Torrey drives to Harpswell twice a week to empty the shed, and later writes a check to the TV station for the amount netted by the bottles.
In May, he started noticing fewer plastic bags of returnables piled in and around the shed.
Torrey said that on his biggest pick-up day, Wednesday, the small shed is normally overflowing with bags of returnables. But on recent Wednesdays, “a couple of times there was only a couple bags in it,” he said.
Torrey said he has talked with employees of the transfer station, who noted that the shed would be full over the weekend, but nearly empty on Tuesday – before Torrey’s pick-up.
The situation got so bad that Frisoli began hiding the bags of returnables so the thieves couldn’t find them.
She also reported the thefts to the Sheriff’s Office in May and showed a deputy video footage of one of the alleged thefts. It was recorded using a security camera Frisoli installed in the shed, and showed two men driving up, removing all the bags of returnables, and driving away.
According to Lt. Tom Williams of the Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Jay Ward has identified a possible suspect. He has tried unsuccessfully to contact the suspect several times, Williams said, and visited the man’s home.
Frisoli also took the footage to the Brunswick Police Department, but officers there couldn’t identify the two men in the video.
Frisoli said she is upset the problem has pushed her to record activity at the shed.
“I hate to do that because (the people who donate bottles) have a right to their privacy,” she said.
Frisoli said she has considered locking the shed, but worries that “all (the thieves) would do is destroy it to get the bottles out.”
And besides, donations often overflow the tiny building, especially in the summer when seasonal residents contribute their empties.
Although the lost revenue is a concern, Frisoli is more worried that if people know the bottles are being stolen, they’ll stop donating them – something she said has already started to happen.
She encouraged those who may be reluctant to drop off their returnables to continue to donate to the station by bringing bottles and cans to Don’s Redemption Center in the name of Harpswell Community TV.
The shed where Harpswell residents can donate returnables to Harpswell Community TV sits just outside the transfer station gate on Mountain Road.