Feds stop paying meth clean up costs

The federal government has suddenly stopped paying the clean up costs associated with meth labs.

Those costs totaled about $20 million nationwide last year and about $1.3 million in Michigan alone.

“Last year we had 61 meth labs in Cass County, this year we’ve already had, actually, 32,” said Richard Behnke, Cass County Undersheriff.

The situation promises to create the biggest problems in some of Michigan’s smallest counties.

“But we’ve only had one [clean up] since the [federal] money ran out, but that one cost us $26,000 to clean up,” said Behnke.

At that rate, Behnke estimates that cleaning up meth labs could cost Cass County some $28,000 a year.

“$25,000 to us is a lot more than $25,000 to Kalamazoo County or an Oakland County, Michigan,” said Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz.

The situation has several Michigan municipalities struggling to adjust.

“There are some departments in the state that have actually said, some police departments in the state—none in Cass County—but have said it’s not a law enforcement issue because of the hazardous material incident. If you don’t have a suspect it’s no longer a crime, and so they turn it over to their fire departments, that’s not anything we want to do either.” said Undersheriff Behnke.

Still other communities have discussed billing property owners for clean up costs.

“I think that this should be funded at the federal level or the state level,” said Prosecutor Fitz. “One of the primary jobs of the government is to protect the pubic, and that means providing the resources for cleaning up toxic waste sites. And so we're hopeful that a solution will be found.”

Right now, Cass County is studying the possibility of having some of its own employees trained in chemical clean up.

The county has also been shopping around for a new hazardous waste dump. The federal government used a facility in Plainwell, which is about 55 miles away.

Although Cass County is about one third the size of its neighbor to the west, Berrien County, Cass County spent nearly twice as much on meth clean ups.

In Indiana, the state police typically handle all meth clean ups. Up to this point, the loss of federal funding remains the state’s problem.

Meth clean ups in Indiana cost about $560,000 in 2010.

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