By Katie Kuba
Upshur Bureau Chief
BUCKHANNON - The city of Buckhannon is in the process of adopting the Environmental Protection Agency's guidelines for cleaning up methamphetamine laboratories in residences within corporate limits where the drug was believed to have been made or used.
Members of Buckhannon City Council on Thursday unanimously approved on first reading Ordinance 379, which, if passed on second and final reading, would adopt the EPA's official instructions for methamphetamine laboratory cleanup.
Those guidelines were revised in March 2013.
City Attorney Dave McCauley said the ordinance is just another weapon the municipality can use in its ongoing "war on drugs."
"I know the current administration has chosen not to call it that (a war on drugs), but sometimes you have to be in the trenches to know it's a war," McCauley said, prior to reading the ordinance to council.
According to the multi-step ordinance, if an individual is arrested or convicted for either using or manufacturing meth by the Buckhannon Police Department or any other law enforcement agency, the Buckhannon Chief of Police is required to notify in writing the city's zoning officer. The zoning officer must then notify in writing the owner of the property, where meth was allegedly made or used.
That notice will inform the property owner that he or she must immediately have his or her real estate in question evaluated "to determine the presence of meth contamination, and further to determine the reasonable and necessary abatement actions to be undertaken" if meth is discovered. This "methamphetamine assessment" must be conducted by a professional contractor who has experience in meth inspection and meth contamination abatement, the ordinance states.
Samples taken from the affected residence must then be evaluated by a "professional, experienced meth testing laboratory," according to the ordinance. Once the presence of meth has been confirmed, the property owner "shall immediately vacate the subject premises," and notices stating that the premise is uninhabitable until the presence of methamphetamine has been abated must be posted at every entry point.
After the meth problem is fully abated, a reoccupancy permit will be issued to the property owner.
The ordinance says that the property owner will be responsible for paying for the cost of "all inspections, laboratory testing, contamination abatement, reinspection, compliance certification and any and all other activities" associated with removing the presence of methamphetamine.
The ordinance absolves the city from any financial responsibility, saying that the city has "no responsibility whatsoever" to pay any costs associated with inspection or abatement.
However, the ordinance says council is aware that the new law will pose "hardships" to landlords who rent properties to people who chose to use or make meth in those residences. As a result, the document goes on to say that city officials plan to reach out to landlords by providing them with information and setting up workshops that will help landlords identify meth users and manufacturers.
The penalty for a conviction of an offense under the ordinance is a fine of up to $500 per day that a property owner is determined to be noncompliant.
"So if the landlord is notified that there is an offense under this and does nothing about it, then he's subject to a $500 fine and all that stuff?" Councilman Ron Pugh asked.
"That's correct," McCauley replied. "If we didn't have that in there, there would be absolutely no teeth to the ordinance. We work with people a lot, but you've got to sometimes have something out there of a coercive nature that if they just point-blank won't work with you, it's there in case we need to use it. And money talks."
Pugh made a motion to approve the ordinance on first reading, which was seconded by Councilman John Waltz on its way to passing unanimously.
Following the vote, Councilwoman Pam Cuppari said she'd like to see a meth maker/user identification workshop for landlords set up as soon as possible.
"There are a lot of landlords in the city of Buckhannon," she said.
City zoning officer Rich Clemens agreed to set one up.
Should the ordinance pass on second reading at council's Jan. 16 meeting, it will go into effect Feb. 15.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.