Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 20, 2004

Property owners now responsible for drug lab clean-up in LP

By Jane Otto
Staff Writer

Paying for cleaning up the mess a methamphetamine lab can leave behind is something Lester Prairie doesn’t want to do.

The city council adopted an ordinance last Monday that makes the property owner liable for all costs incurred in cleaning up the site.

“The chemicals that go into this stuff are just nasty,” Police Chief Bob Carlson said. “We need to let these boneheads be responsible for cleaning this up. It’s not going to be cheap.”

Meth labs are more common to rural or semi-rural areas than large cities. In 2003, more than 500 clandestine meth labs were found in Minnesota, with 75 percent of those in rural areas, the Minnesota Department of Health reported.

Meth recipes contain such chemicals as acetone, Freon, anhydrous ammonia, iodine, muriatic acid, or sulfuric acid, typically found in drain cleaners.

When mixed, potentially harmful chemical residues can remain on household surfaces for months, even years, the health department reported.

Cleanup costs vary greatly depending on how much meth was made, and how long and how often the lab was used. They can range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

City Attorney Jodi Winters of Gavin, Olson, Savre, and Winters in Glencoe, drew up the ordinance.

The cities of Silver Lake, Plato, Stewart, and Glencoe, which the Glencoe firm serves, are considering the same ordinance.

Lester Prairie’s neighbor to the north, Winsted, doesn’t have such an ordinance.

“We are researching it and looking at what other cities are doing,” City Administrator Brent Mareck said.

McLeod County recently adopted a clean-up ordinance. The city wants to be sure its policy doesn’t conflict with the county’s or “slow down” the process, Mareck said.

Like Winsted, Montrose is working on an ordinance, but is probably closer to adopting one. “I hope to have it to the council by the Jan. 10 meeting,” City Administrator Barbara Swanson said.

The cities of New Germany and Waverly also don’t have a policy.

“At this point, we don’t have one,” New Germany City Clerk Shelly Quaas said. “But, it’s probably something we need to do.”

The city of Waverly contracts with the Wright County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services. City Clerk Debbie Ryks said the city probably falls under whatever ordinance the county would have.

Wright County, however, doesn’t have an ordinance.

“We have a draft and hope to resurrect that effort sometime soon,” said Brain Asleson, chief deputy county attorney.

The draft ordinance as written now would apply to municipalities, as well as rural areas, Asleson said. If a city had a more restrictive policy, the county would work within that city’s policy.

Unlike its neighbors to the east and south, the city of Howard Lake has had an ordinance for quite awhile, City Clerk Gene Gilbert said. The town has a blanket ordinance that deals with any public health hazard and assesses all clean-up costs to the land owner.

Like McLeod County, Carver County has an ordinance addressing meth lab cleanup.

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