Pubdate: Tue, 29 Mar 2011
Source: Macon Telegraph (GA)
Copyright: 2011 The Macon Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Amy Leigh Womack
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


If a methamphetamine lab is discovered today in Middle Georgia,
cleanup funds previously available through the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration won't be available.

That cost burden is now falling on already cash-strapped local law
enforcement agencies.

Crawford County Sheriff Lewis Walker said his department's lean budget
stands to take an even bigger hit with the extra cleanup bills.

"Everybody is feeling the crunch of the economy," he

Walker said he requested federal cleanup assistance six times in 2010.
Deputies haven't located a lab needing cleanup so far in 2011, he said.

"We are hoping that something is going to come back in our favor,"
Walker said. "It's just another bill you'd rather avoid."

Federal funds to pay for the cleanups ran out at the end of February
and about $4.16 million to pay for labs found between now and
September has not been finalized, said Stephanie Garlock, director of
government affairs for the National Sheriff's Association.

Even if the funds, which are currently in a proposed budget, remain in
the final budget, the money may not be enough to keep up with the
number of labs discovered across the nation that need to be cleaned
up, Garlock said.

"It's our understanding that's not enough," she said.

Previously, the program that paid for the cleanups was funded through
the COPS Meth Program grant administered by the DEA, she said.

No money for the cleanups has been included in the president's 2012
budget, Garlock said.

Cleaning up the hazardous materials associated with the labs can cost
between $1,500 and $3,500, said Monroe County Sheriff John Cary
Bittick who chairs the National Sheriff's Association's congressional
affairs committee.

"Obviously, it depends on how many you get in a year. It could add up
to be a substantial amount of money," he said.

Representatives from the National Sheriff's Association and other law
enforcement groups are trying to encourage lawmakers to continue
budgeting money for the cleanups, Garlock said.

One pound of the finished meth product equals between 5 and 7 pounds
of hazardous waste, said Macon police Sgt. John Horton.

Because of the hazardous materials, officers don't have a choice of
whether a lab is cleaned up or not, he said.

"They can be flammable or explosive," Horton said. "If it's not
properly handled and cleaned up the right way, it can be a danger to
people and pets."

Macon police haven't busted any labs since 2008, but they routinely
check out reports of suspicious activity and smells from residents.

It's not odd for someone to call the police after smelling strong
chemical smells and suspect someone is making meth, Horton said.

But meth is produced from items that are legal to possess. It's how
the items are combined and their quantities that makes the dangerous
drug, he said.

With cleanup money in limbo, the Macon Police Department has requested
money be added to its 2012 budget, said Chief Mike Burns.

Likewise, the Bibb County Sheriff's Office has requested contingency
money for next year.

"If it's not in the federal budget, we have to plan for it," said Bibb
County Chief Deputy David Davis. "It's equipment or personnel we could
be using in another way."

The sheriff's office has busted 19 labs since 2008. Five of the labs
have been discovered in 2010 and 2011, Davis said.

Bittick said he plans to either add cleanup costs to his department's
budget or ask Monroe County for more money to cover the costs.

Monroe County deputies have discovered four meth labs in the past
three years, he said.

In Houston County, 200 cleanups were performed in 2000 after deputies
either busted labs or found meth materials, said sheriff's office Sgt.
Wayne Franklin.

In the following years the number of labs and cleanups decreased, but
there's been a recent resurgence, he said.

"We're starting to get more and more reports (of labs and meth
activity)," Franklin said.

The sheriff's office depends on the federal money to cover the cost of
cleanup so much that Franklin said he can remember literally sitting
in a lab several years ago waiting on a federal budget to pass to
handle the lab.

"The first one that happens, we'll be sitting here saying 'what do we
do,' he said. "It's coming. It's just a matter of time." 
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