Law enforcement agencies in Carroll County where meth labs continue to plague the community are having to dig into their own pockets for cleanup costs after learning cuts were made to a federal program that funds cleanups of the toxic sites.
While it is an added expense, Carroll officials have developed an innovative solution, one that other agencies are trying to duplicate.
The Drug Enforcement Administration notified local law enforcement officials on Feb. 25 that funding for its Community Oriented Policing Services Methamphetamine Program had been cut and that any cleanup response would be billed back to the parent agency, according to Carroll County Sheriff’s Capt. Shane Taylor. In 1998, COPS launched the Methamphetamine Program, through which it awards $34 million throughout the fiscal year. Since then, COPS has received more than $500 million to combat the spread of meth nationwide and provide funding to the DEA for meth lab clean-up activities.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s fiscal year 2011 performance budget, the department is redirecting funding from the methamphetamine program “to support other mission critical initiatives.” The sheriff’s department has been working hand in hand with the Carrollton Police Department to address how the agencies will handle meth lab cleanups now that the DEA will no longer provide an outside contractor to clean up the hazardous materials left behind. Last year, $170,000 in funding was used for meth lab cleanups in Carroll County.
The county’s Aggressive Criminal Enforcement unit, which is made up of officers from the police and sheriff’s departments, is certified in bringing out the hazardous materials in meth labs to make the area safe. Once the material is moved outside the location, it is separated, documented, inventoried, photographed and collected as evidence. The outside contractor would then handle the transportation, storage and disposal or destruction of the hazardous materials.
According to Taylor, the cleanup of a five-gallon bucket of hazardous material costs about $3,000 when using the private contractor. Meth labs that would require hazardous materials to be separated into two or three buckets would cost anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 for cleanup.
“We never had to worry about that expense because it always came through the COPS grant,” Taylor said. “Now there’s telling us that our agencies are going to have to pick up that amount. Well, obviously, there is no way the sheriff’s office and police department can go into expanding our budgets by roughly $170,000 to $200,000 just for cleaning up methamphetamine so we started looking at a new way immediately to deal with this in a more cost efficient manner. We brought in the fire department, the roads department, our people and begin the task of finding out what it would take for us to do this ourselves.”
County Emergency Management Agency director Tim Padgett and Charles Pope of the county roads department were instrumental in helping the agencies come up with a plan. After going through a checklist of what would be needed to transport, store and dispose of the hazardous material, the Environmental Protection Agency granted approval Wednesday for the agencies to handle their own cleanups. Taylor pointed out the county already had many of the resources needed to handle its own meth cleanups.
“We felt like we already had a lot of what you needed,” he said. “It was just a matter of getting approval.”
For example, the ACE unit already has a meth lab response vehicle. The county also has employees with a hazardous material endorsement on their commercial driver’s license.
“We believe we can do this for under $10,000 a year versus what was going through the federal government,” Taylor said. “Even if they restart this COPS grant, it doesn’t make sense… that we’d ever go back to signing off on that kind of money being spent for cleanups of these labs. We’ve already been contacted by surrounding counties and agencies that’s heard of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Once we have our program in place, it sounds like we’re going to have a lot of other agencies coming in implementing a similar type program.”
While there probably was a lot of money being wasted in the federal funding of cleanups through the COPS grant, he said that the county government is exempt from many of the insurance fees and regulations a private business may have to pay to handle hazardous materials.