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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Perry: Meth cleanup costly
County recently has found five meth labs

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin staff writer

Henry County authorities have found five methamphetamine labs in the last nine weeks, Sheriff Lane Perry told the Henry County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Now, authorities and the county are looking at options for paying to clean up the labs and keep the public safe.

“When a community is dealing with meth, it comes in two ways,” either pre-made and consumed, or manufactured locally, Perry said of the drug that can be made by combining chemicals that are readily available.

When combined, however, “it creates toxic chemicals,” he said. Those chemicals must be cleaned up, both from a public and environmental standpoint. And the cleanup costs money.

Perry said the cost just to remove the toxic substances is about $2,500 per lab.

Rendering the home, apartment, mobile or other structure safe for a future renter or owner costs an additional $10,000 to $20,000, the sheriff said.

Using the highest figures, that means the cost of cleaning up the five labs found recently could hit $112,500.

The sheriff’s office and county staff currently are looking for ways to address cleanup costs, whether it is investing in the needed equipment and training some sheriff’s officers specifically for the task or determining the applicable standards to make a structure livable again.

The problem, Perry said, is that his office “is running into things we haven’t encountered before.”

Supervisors Vice Chairman Tommy Slaughter asked if the cleanup and related costs could be passed on to property owners when meth labs are found in rentals.

Perry said that may be possible in some situations. He added that authorities and the county are in the same boat as many other jurisdictions in seeking ways to address the issue.

“This is an introductory phase” to determine “how do we deal with it,” he said.

Slaughter, a retired police officer, also mentioned that he has heard of labs being set up in hotel rooms, as well as in vehicles.

He recalled that a police officer in another area returned home after getting meth on his shoes and the officer’s baby died.

Collinsville District Supervisor Joe Bryant echoed Slaughter’s suggestion. Bryant said that while he understands that meth labs must be cleaned up due to the dangers, he wondered if there is a way to hold property owners accountable.

Perhaps, he said, the county could seize the property until it is cleaned up by the property owner to prevent others from renting or buying it, moving in and possibly becoming ill — or worse.

Regardless, “I think it’s unfair to the taxpayers to have their money spent on cleanup,” Bryant said.

County Attorney George Lyle said the county does not issue certificates of occupancy on rental property.

Horsepasture District Supervisor Debra Buchanan said “if we continue to turn a blind eye” on labs found in rental properties, property owners are “just going to keep renting” to anyone, and the problem will continue.

The county and authorities are trying to determine who has to pay and for what, while ensuring that places where meth labs are found are not rented again to an unsuspecting person or family until the cleanup is done.

“We are chugging down a parallel trail to try to address this” problem, said County Administrator Tim Hall. “We don’t want to have to spend any more money than we have to” for cleanup, but public safety must be addressed.

“We want to make sure someone” who is innocent is not affected by another person’s criminal intent, Perry said. “This (problem) is looming on the horizon.”

And, it is “a community problem,” Slaughter said.


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