BUCKHANNON - Buckhannon City Council members on Thursday voted unanimously to table a methamphetamine laboratory cleanup ordinance - which they had previously approved - after learning that the state Legislature is considering a similar piece of legislation with substantially stiffer penalties.
At its Jan. 2 meeting, council members approved on first reading an ordinance which, had it been put into practice, would have adopted 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.
The ordinance states that owners of properties contaminated by the manufacture of methamphetamine are required to pay 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 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.
At Thursday's meeting, City Attorney Dave McCauley advised council that he'd been contacted by Brandon Lewis, a chemist with the state Department of Health and Human Resources' Clandestine Drug Laboratory Remediation Program Division. Lewis, who reviewed Kanawha County's methamphetamine laboratory cleanup ordinance, said he'd read about the city's efforts to curb the manufacture of meth and reduce the public health risks it poses in an article that appeared in The Inter-Mountain.
Lewis said he would be happy to review Buckhannon's ordinance and provide feedback.
He also told McCauley he had been involved in writing a "major piece of legislation" currently pending before the state Legislature, "which if adopted during the current legislative session will criminalize failures of property owners to undertake state-mandated inspection and contamination abatement as felonies," McCauley said.
Individuals convicted of such felonies would be required to serve "substantial prison terms" and could be fined $5,000 per day for failure to participate in methamphetamine-related inspections and abatement, if necessary, McCauley said.
Lewis told McCauley that he believes the proposed state law "has a lot more teeth" than the city's ordinance in its current form, the city attorney added.
"You have this ordinance before you tonight, and it would be legal to pass it, but I think what will end up happening is I will be coming back to you about March or April saying that a lot of what we did has been undone by state legislation and it's going to change," McCauley said, "and this is a hot button topic as is (pseudoephedrine-containing medicines)."
City Recorder Rich Clemens made a motion to table the ordinance until Lewis has an opportunity to review it and/or the city receives more information about the Legislature's plans to address meth cleanup across the Mountain State.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT-Kuba.