Rise in highway sign vandalism and thefts in Chippewa County

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 10:15 PM CDT
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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) - Signs collected by the Chippewa County Highway Commission tell the commissioner Brian Kelley trouble is afoot.

“Had quite an uptick lately in the amount of signs being stolen and damaged,” said Kelley. “Normally we might get a couple a month and we had quite a few last weekend alone, and we’ve had more this week. So it’s just it’s gradually becoming more and more.”

He said the way some highway signs are vandalized would be too dangerous to leave up for any amount of time.

“Well, a lot of times bullet holes or a lot of paint ball lately they’ve been shooting a lot of paintball guns at the signs,” said Kelley. “But, what they typically do is either run them over and with their bumper and knock them down or completely just yank them out of the ground and either steal them or throw them in the ditch.”

There are fines of up to $10,000 if caught stealing or vandalizing a highway sign.

“But it’s also a very dangerous situation when road signs are missing that people depend on,” said Kelley.

There is also possible jail time of up to 9 months, and in some cases even 10 years.

“A significant penalty If you cause an accident, somebody gets hurt or killed,” said Kelley.

Replacing the signs can also cost taxpayers. It is at least $250 per sign, depending on the size. It could also cost a couple $1000 with the job of having the signs replaced.

“It’s a costly expense for us to bring people in on the weekends, make these nighttime emergency repairs,” said Kelley.

He also said the issue goes beyond Chippewa County.

“It’s county wide but we’ve had a lot of it lately happened on the west side of the county between Bloomer and Colfax. And we actually talked to Dunn County and they have been getting hit really hard in Dunn County across the county line, that area, too,” said Kelley.

WEAU did reach out to Bloomer Police and the Dunn County Sheriff for an interview, but got no response.

Kelley said the Chippewa County highway signs are aluminum and have a Chippewa County sticker. He asks to report any missing signs to the Sheriff’s Office, or if anyone is in possession of a Chippewa County highway sign.

Kelley said so far no one has either been killed or injured from the missing and vandalized highway signs, but would appreciate everyone be aware of the issue to prevent any tragedies.