Meth abatement ordinance fails

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council voted 5-1 against a controversial methamphetamine abatement ordinance this week.

The ordinance would have adopted the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines for cleaning up methamphetamine laboratories by land owners if a meth lab has been discovered on their property.

“I’m not in favor of this at all,” Councilman Ron Pugh said during Thursday’s Council meeting.

Members of the Landlords Association also have frequently spoken against the ordinance, saying it would duplicate existing state law. The ordinance never made it past a first reading after its debut in January and had been tabled for further review and consideration at a number of meetings.

Pugh made a motion to do away with the ordinance altogether Thursday.

“Why do we not take this ordinance and just write a letter to the Municipal League or the Legislature asking them to consider this and to do legislation affecting this problem, instead of us passing this here on a local level?” Pugh said. “Why do we have to get involved with it on a local level?”

City Attorney David McCauley said the ordinance isn’t entirely redundant, noting it would add a local level of protection, including penalties for the removal of signs on contaminated structures. It also would establish a more immediate property owner notification system.

McCauley said it would also establish a registry of people who have been identified – not prosecuted or found guilty – as problematic based on a history of related offenses. The registry would allow landlords to see who might be problematic occupants looking to rent their properties, officials said.

Council member Pam Cuppari seconded Pugh’s motion. Only Council member Tom O’Neill voted against dropping the ordinance.

O’Neill said the ordinance would deputize the city zoning or housing officer to post signs and restrict access to an area contaminated by controlled substances in a more timely manner than state officials often can accomplish. City Attorney David McCauley said it usually takes about three weeks for state officials to post the signs.

“This ordinance does not change one bit of responsibility on the part of property owners that doesn’t already exist in West Virginia state codes,” O’Neill said, later adding, “Maybe part of the problem that we have here is people see a 13-page ordinance and it becomes a huge red flag in and of itself. I think the Council is making a huge mistake by rejecting this ordinance I think this will represent, on our part, a retreat in the war on drugs in Buckhannon.”

Pugh said the ordinance would affect the war on drugs in a more negative than positive way. Council member Mary Albaugh said there are many aspects that need to be looked at more closely before passing an ordinance.

“I’m not totally in favor of the ordinance either,” Albaugh said, suggesting a committee work together with police to come up with new ideas.