HOUSTON -

Thieves who steal metal manhole covers and storm sewer grates from Houston streets cost taxpayers $126,000 the city told Local 2 Investigates.

“These people are stealing from taxpayers,” Alvin Wright, Houston Public Works spokesman, said Tuesday.

The city replaced about 1,400 covers and grates from January to November of 2013. The average cost of each replacement is about $90. Some replacements can cost as much as $200.

An open manhole or grate can also be dangerous.

“I was on an early morning run when it was still dark. I turned a street corner. All of a sudden I just dropped,” Greater Heights resident Christian Andreason told Local 2 Investigates’ Jace Larson. “Luckily I caught myself, but it could have been a whole lot worse.”

Andreason wasn't seriously hurt

“I went all the way down to my hips. It completely took me by surprise,” he said.

Along the Washington corridor resident Tony Gibson worries someone will fall or drive into a hole where a water grate should be in an ally next to his house.

“We have friends who park here all the time and we worry they are going to pull their car off in there and really mess up the bottom of their car,” Gibson said. “There are children playing here all the time.”

Wright says scrap yards are supposed to check to make sure the metal they accept isn’t stolen, but sometimes it’s hard to know, he says.

“Many of the grates are cut into pieces and in many cases cannot be identified. Some thieves put the grates and manhole covers in cars sold to auto crush yards to increase the weight and cash return,” Wright said.

He encourages residents to report missing covers and grates  to 311.

If you see someone looking suspicious around a grate or manhole cover, call police, Wright says.

To contact the city’s 311 service you can search “Houston 311” in the app store for iPhone.

Online you can contact 311 online.

You can call 311 by dialing 311 from your phone in Houston or calling: 713-837-0311.

Have a tip for investigative reporter Jace Larson? Email him at jlarson@kprc.com or send him a Tweet.