Sullivan County to place liens on meth lab properties, recoup loss of federal funds

Rain Smith • Feb 25, 2011 at 6:24 AM

In response to Tuesday's immediate halt on federal funding for the cleanup of methamphetamine labs, the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office plans to place liens on properties where such operations are discovered, forcing the owners to repay local expenses before a quarantine is lifted.

Sheriff Wayne Anderson said the procedure will begin immediately, holding both meth cookers and the property owners that rent to them responsible. Anderson added his agency has a moral and legal responsibility to continue policing meth production, with or without federal funding.

The plan is contingent on the Sullivan County Commission agreeing to pay for the initial cleanup out of emergency funds, with the money later recouped from the offenders.

Anderson conceded that given the economic conditions and addiction of many suspects, all bills won't be collected. Meth labs differ from other drug busts, Anderson said, where high dollar items are often located, seized and auctioned.

If offenders don't pay, or the county commission denies requests to dip into emergency coffers, the Sheriff's Office will have to cover expenses from allocated funds in their budget. Anderson said his budget is already tight, with extra expenses to bring losses in equipment and training.

Federal cuts aren't effecting the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force. They will still respond to labs, decontaminate individuals and safely collect hazardous materials for disposal.

It's the hauling off of those materials to dump sites that will now need to be paid for. Anderson said those services are provided by Eagle Transport Company's Knoxville location, with a price tag of approximately $2,500 to $3,000 per lab.

To have a lien lifted under Anderson's plan, offenders will have to pay that bill and hire a company to properly decontaminate the residence. Until those conditions are met a quarantine would remain in place, prohibiting occupation.

In the case of meth operations discovered within rental properties, the property owner will be held accountable for restitution. Anderson said it is the responsibility of rental owners to be aware of their tenants' activities, as the combustibility and noxious fumes of meth labs present a danger to the surrounding community.

Anderson said 25 methamphetamine labs were uncovered within his jurisdiction in 2010. Less than two months into 2011, the tally is already 12.

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