County learns of meth cleanup procedures

PARKERSBURG – Wood County officials learned the procedures and law relating to the cleanup, remediation of meth lab properties during a special meeting Wednesday of the Wood County Abandoned/Dilapidated Building Committee.

Brandon Lewis, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Clandestine Drug Lab Remediation Program Coordinator, outlined the law relating to cleanup and problems relating to meth lab cleanup procedures.

“Our concern is public health,” Lewis told county compliance officials, state police, Prosecutor Jason Wharton and residents concerned about a property on Coolidge Street that was involved with a meth bust in March and has not been remediated.

“It’s a complete mess, it’s all grown over, there are bugs, rats, animals in there,” said Ovie Nohe.

Nohe said he lives next door to the meth lab property involved in the bust.

Neighbors said some of the materials outside were taken from inside the house and may be contaminated.

“It’s a troubling time, I understand your grief, we have so many of these meth labs in the state,” Lewis said.

The property is outside city limits.

Police reports from the time of the bust said 26 “shake-and-bake style” containers for cooking methamphetamines were recovered from an abandoned house at 77 Coolidge St.

Pat Barker said she lives above the meth house property and is tired of waiting to see something done.

“It’s on Route 47, between the old pub and the carryout. We have grandchildren, and we are concerned about the neighborhood children, we want it cleaned up. I don’t want this kind of thing, we don’t live like this, it’s trash and it needs cleaned up,” she said. “We had a guest a couple of weeks ago and this is what they see before they come up our driveway. I’d like to see the house done away with, the whole area just needs cleaned up” she said.

“But I’m also concerned if they do demolish it where the roaches, and the rats and the raccoons and so forth are going to go,” Barker said.

Reed said the county has an ordinance in place with set procedures to follow in the case of an abandoned property deemed contaminated. He requested Lewis forward him a copy of the letter written to the property owner of the Coolidge Street property saying it would then be turned over to the county engineer to write a certified letter asking them to respond with an action plan for cleanup within 10 days.

“We were notified of the problems and we had referred it to a prosecutor to get a ruling. We were told our current ordinance is adequate, we didn’t know if we needed a special ordinance, but we were told the one we have is adequate to address this,” Reed said following Wednesday’s meeting.

Once the committee reviews the case, it can be brought before the county commission. Property owners are notified in writing and the property owner can request a hearing. If the owner fails to comply with cleanup requests, commissioners can seek bids for repairs, demolition, removal and cleanup. A lien can be placed against the property so the county can recoup the cost of cleanup.

Lewis said Wednesday under current law no one is allowed to go back inside a former meth property until it has been tested and if necessary remediated.

He said meth labs have been found around the state in everything from cars, hotel rooms, condos, houses, and trailers to, at least on one occasion where officials found a woman “cooking” meth in a water bottle in her pants pocket.

Lewis said with the newest “one pot shake and bake method,” has allowed offenders much more mobility.

“This method allows them to cook anywhere,” Lewis said.

“Meth labs leave lots of waste, unsanitary conditions, they pour it down the pipes, destroy the pipes,” Lewis said showing slides of children living in squalid meth house conditions.

“In Martinsburg we had a trailer explode, it destroyed all the vehicles nearby, and leveled the trailer, it looked like a war zone,” Lewis said. “We are all victims of this, including the taxpayers.”

There were 561 reported meth labs in 2013 in West Virginia, with 40 in Wood County, according to Lewis.

“That’s the highest total we’ve ever had in West Virginia, it is down somewhat, with 300 so far this year,” Lewis said, noting not all cases get reported to this agency. “It started in the central part of the state, but now we are even seeing it up in the northern panhandle.”

The procedure is after police notify Lewis’ office, he posts a sign and no one is permitted back in, a letter is sent out notifying the property owner and the property owner is to provide written proof they have hired a certified contractor to test and if the site is contaminated, a certified contractor must be retained to remediate the site.

Lewis admitted that does not always happen, he’s been informed neighbors see people going back into the house, or attempt to sell the house.

“The contamination will stay with the property the entire time, I’ve had to shut down a school and hotel because of the extent of the contamination,” he said, noting it can become airborne and there is the chance of cross-contamination through clothing, the air.

Lewis said if a former meth house property is offered for sale, the owner is responsible to disclose the status of the property to prospective buyers and sellers.