Missing metal…

My first reaction to a story in last week’s Albuquerque Journal was, how do you manage to lose track of this much stuff?

The story involved the loss of $2 million in ball bearings from White Sands Missile Range. The missing ball bearings, which officials said weighed about 230,000 pounds or 115 tons, ended up in a scrap metal yard in Albuquerque. Investigators say that’s as much as a full grown whale would weigh.

The ball bearings were used in explosive research conducted at the southern New Mexico base, according to WSMR officials.

Authorities have opened an investigation into the missing ball bearings and two persons have been named as targets of the probe. Authorities said a person tipped them off about the possible theft and relocation of the ball bearings.

The story brings to mind another New Mexico incident involving  large amounts of missing metal in 1973. Construction work was underway on a section of I-25 south of Albuquerque when an informant said that short pieces of rebar that were supposed to be inserted every 30 inches into the highway roadbed were not being inserted as prescribed.

A University of New Mexico student working part time for the highway construction company said he was told by his foreman to skip inserting some of the rebar during the paving process. The student related a conversation in which he alleged his foreman told him “I want you to put in them rebars only when the inspectors are watching. The only way they’ll know there aren’t any bars in there is to tear up that slab. This is between you and me.”

Ultimately, an investigation using high-tech equipment from Sandia Labs showed that a section of highway did not contain the required amount of reinforcement bars. As a result of the finding, the primary contractor for the project paid a penalty of $20,322 and had to purchase a $60,000 surety bond to cover any long-term degradation of the roadway.

The investigation never concluded what happened to the missing rebar. And if you’ve driven to Albuquerque lately along that section of I-25, you’ll notice it has been the site of a major renovation of the busy highway.

I’m hoping there has been careful inspection of placement of rebar in the project. Maybe some ball bearings too.

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