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Price of metal helps clean up mountains


Some eastern Kentuckians are getting paid for unburied treasures that have been sitting out in plain sight for years.

The high price being paid for scrap metal has inspired some folks to clean up the region, which has a chronic problem with improper disposal.

Brian Kelley of Pine Top, about 60 miles southwest of Pikeville, heard about the rate for scrap metal and took his truck into the mountain hollows. A few days later, Kelley collected $300 for pieces he found, including a radiator and abandoned mine equipment.

“In our lifetime, scrap may not be as high again as it is now,” said Gerald Hines, Pulaski County’s solid waste coordinator.

Pulaski is “50 percent cleaner” in recent months, Hines said.

In 2003, steel and iron scrap was $100 a ton compared to $520 per ton in May, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling. The demand stems mainly from developing nations such as China and India. Last year, the U.S. exported $21.7 billion in scrap metal.

Local scrap dealers say they have seen the number of people bringing in scrap more than double.

A negative aspect is that some people who bring the metal in for money don’t always get it legally.

There have been cases of people who have been arrested for stealing items including manhole covers and copper wiring.

“A few years ago, it wasn’t worth it to haul stuff in, so people just let them sit,” said Daniel Cordle, who co-owns three Mr Metal scrap yards in eastern Kentucky. “Now they’re bringing ’em in from everywhere.”

Cordle pays sellers $180 per ton of steel, compared to about $20 a ton five years ago. That makes a discarded pickup truck worth about $300. Copper sells for up to $4 per pound.

For years, eastern Kentucky residents dumped cars and appliances off cliffs and into creeks, or just abandoned them curbside.

“It gets rid of all the old junk they’re pulling out of creeks in Knott County,” Kelley said.

Scrap has gone from a nuisance that many had in their back yards to a commodity, said Robert Sallie of Wolf County, who recently received more than $1,000 from Mr Metal for a pile of scrap.

“I’ve been doing this all my life,” he said. “It’s getting really hard to find now.”

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