Drug ordinance back on table

BUCKHANNON – The city of Buckhannon’s methamphetamine abatement ordinance is back on the table.

But this time it’s being called the “drug/controlled substance contamination abatement ordinance” because its scope has been expanded to include any “controlled substance that leaves a residue” and is harmful to human health, triggering abatement, City Attorney Dave McCauley said at Council’s Thursday meeting.

Council tabled the ordinance in January at the recommendation of McCauley. On Thursday, however, the city attorney presented a revised draft to council, which adopts not only the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines for methamphetamine laboratory cleanup, but also the state of West Virginia’s guidelines for clandestine drug laboratory remediation.

According to the ordinance, once it has been established that methamphetamine “or other controlled substance contamination exists” within a property, the city and state Department of Health and Human Resources officials will declare the property uninhabitable.

The ordinance requires the owner of the property to pay “all costs and expenses associated with any and all inspections, laboratory testing, controlled substance contamination abatement, re-inspection, compliance certification and any and all other activities either required herein or naturally resulting here from.”

The ordinance goes on to explicitly state that the city of Buckhannon “shall have no responsibility whatsoever to pay for any costs or expenses” related to restoring the property to a habitable state.

“In addition to the EPA guidelines, this ordinance would also adopt everything and anything the state of West Virginia has done since 2007 when they first started to come up with some standards about meth contamination abatement,” McCauley told council members.

“Instead of Mr. Clemens (Rich Clemens, city zoning officer) being the bad guy and be going out and boarding places up and putting signs up and the whole bit, he will be working in tandem and in cooperation with Brandon Lewis’ office, which is with the state remediation folks.”

Lewis is a chemist with the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Clandestine Drug Laboratory Remediation Program Division.

McCauley explained that the ordinance, if passed on first reading by Council at a regular meeting on May 1, would be applicable to not just meth, but also other drugs that leave residue harmful to human health.

“We’re not limiting it to just methamphetamine; it’s any drug that could produce health problems,” he said. That could include marijuana or any drug that spurs contamination abatement, McCauley added.

One “potentially controversial” section of the ordinance calls for the establishment of a registry “of all persons determined to have been responsible for creating or contributing to the creation of meth or other controlled substance residue that prompts meth or controlled substance contamination abatement” within any building or structure in the corporate limits of the city of Buckhannon.

“This is one thing Brandon Lewis had proposed this to the state Legislature that they decided to table – but we are implementing it if you adopt this ordinance,” McCauley said.

Any person listed on the registry would remain on it for a period of 10 years, the city attorney said; however, council may adjust that time period if they so desire, he said.

“This is a little bit different from the sexual offense registry. If you are on that registry, you are on that registry for the rest of your life,” he said. “We don’t want to have someone be labeled as a drug abuser or a manufacturer for necessarily their entire life.”

“If they’re manufacturing meth, there’s a good chance their life span isn’t going to be 10 years anyway,” Councilman Ron Pugh commented.

Councilman Tom O’Neill, who expressed concerns about the implementation of the registry, posed a hypothetical question to McCauley.

“So if I were (living) in a place and a buddy of mine is responsible for cooking meth, then I’ll get put on the registry because I was the renter?” O’Neill asked.

“There’s that potentiality,” McCauley replied.

“We might want to look at that,” O’Neill said.

McCauley said establishing a registry is a response to area landlords being very “fearful” and wondering how to identify would-be drug users.

“The idea with the registry is to help those folks,” McCauley said. “We’re trying to be empathetic with all property owners but especially landlords who have a little less control about what goes on in premises once they rent it out to somebody else. So at least if we have this list of folks who have violated the Buckhannon ordinance we’ll be able to share those names publicly so that they can take appropriate action to protect themselves.”

“We’re trying to heighten the awareness of landlords to be more vigilant in who they rent to while also providing them information once we have it,” McCauley added. “It makes sense.”

Anyone convicted of an offense under the ordinance will be fined up to $500 for each day of noncompliance, the ordinance states.

The first official reading of the ordinance is slated for May 1 to afford Council members, the public and members of the Upshur County Landlords’ Association an opportunity to review it.

The ordinance is posted online at www.buckhannonwv.org, and copies are also available for review at City Hall, 70 E. Main St.

Contact Katie Kuba by email at kkuba@theintermountain.com.