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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New St. Pete Metal Law Bypasses Duma

ST. PETERSBURG -- Staggering under the weight of a heavy plastic bag, Viktor arrives at a collection point for scrap metal on Vasilyevsky Island. The small shack is closed, but Viktor says he has just come to check the latest prices for the contents of his bag, as he peruses a list stuck to the door of the shack telling him that he can earn between 11 rubles and 20 rubles per kilo of scrap, depending on the type of metal.

"What else am I supposed to do, when I can't earn enough money to survive," says Viktor, tugging ineffectually on a huge padlock on the door.

But Viktor may have this source of revenue closed off if St. Petersburg authorities effectively enforce a law just passed by the Legislative Assembly.

By restricting the collection of nonferrous metals f any metal not containing iron f authorities plan to reduce the theft of metal from factories and other buildings around St. Petersburg.

Thieves' targets include telephone wires, parts of elevators, almost any electrical machinery and even old cutlery.

Trading in the scrap is a lucrative business and the city has more than 600 recycling stations selling metals to countries including Estonia, Sweden and Finland.

A telephone call to a local company that collects metal from city residents and local companies revealed that it was interested in buying scrap, but that the price "depends on what kind of [metal] you are going to bring us."

"I can put you through to our manager to negotiate," said a woman who did not identify herself, "or would you like us to tell you which [materials] are better to cut off?"

City Hall officials estimated in May that damage to the city's infrastructure caused by the widespread theft of nonferrous metals reached 57.4 million rubles (just over $2 million) between 1996 and 2000. This includes 7 million rubles spent this year alone on fixing elevators that stopped working when a vital piece of "scrap" was removed to be sold.

The new law states that those wishing to sell nonferrous metals must produce a form saying that the scrap has been legally taken from a factory. It further prohibits the sale of wires, locks and metal taken from objects such as fences, lifts, benches and cemetery headstones.

Recycling stations found guilty of breaking the law will be fined $150 to $300.

However, the Legislative Assembly and the St. Petersburg government may be in for a battle that would test the Kremlin's resolve to punish regions who act contrary to federal law.

Yabloko deputy Vitaly Kalinin said the Legislative Assembly was forced to pass its own law because the Duma had failed to do so.

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev issued a decree in 1997 that also introduce fines to prevent theft from equipment containing nonferrous metals.

City Hall officials said metal theft rapidly decreased by about 70 percent, just a few weeks after the decree came into force.

In March of the same year, however, a city court put the decree on hold, saying it contradicted the Constitution.

Alexander Afanasiyev, Yakovlev's spokesman, said that the court ruled the law violated the right of citizens to engage in any form of trade they want.

In another attempt to combat theft, city authorities installed metal doors and railings around the engine rooms that power elevators in thousands of buildings across St. Petersburg.

However, thieves broke down walls and got into the engine rooms anyway, said Lyubov Martynenko, deputy head of the city department that deals with engineering maintenance.

"They steal anything they can.

"The only way to get rid of them is to ban the recycling stations, or make the processes of handing over [nonferrous metals] more strictly regulated."