Motel meth lab a hazmat situation: officials

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

A meth lab being run out of the Bronson Motel, according to area law enforcement, was shut down in early March, but town officials are saying they have been left holding the proverbial bag, which, in this case, may be full of the deadly residue left from the illegal operation.

“They dumped it on the local authority,” said Town Clerk Kelli Brettel Monday night about the cleanup that might be necessary.

Town Building and Zoning official Bob Niffeneggar told council members at their regular meeting that he sent a notice to the motel owner, Ella Baumbach, March 19, that required evaluation and possible remediation by licensed contractors of effected rooms that may have been involved in the production of meth. Baumbach was given 30 days to comply. The citation also demands that six rooms, those directly involved and others that adjoin, have no occupants until "those units have been certified free of any hazardous materials ..." Town staff also put up notices around the motel stating that certain areas may be considered a health hazard.

The Levy County Drug Task Force arrested three people there March 6 on charges relatated to the production and sale of methamphetamine. 

Niffeneggar, however, said he later learned that Baumbach, after receiving the initial notice, had started working on the rooms with unlicensed workers.

“We don’t know what’s in those walls,” he said, later adding that he would on Tuesday issue a stop order, which could result in jail time if not complied with.

Though methods for producing methamphetamine vary, some chemicals found afterward include benzene, methylene chloride, trichloroethane and toluene, among other things, all of which can be found absorbed into carpet, fabrics, drains, ventilation systems and wall board. Exposure can lead to respiratory problems, skin and eye irritations, headaches and dizziness and presents a serious health risk. 

Town Attorney Steven Warm said town officials had the right to do whatever was necessary to protect people, even “putting a padlock on the whole place.”

Baumbach said in a phone interview Tuesday that the three arrested, though possibly being in possession of chemicals associated with meth production, weren't actually cooking up the drug in the motel.

“They didn't have a meth lab,” she said, accusing town officials of trying to shut her down so that it could have her property. “They're trying to take away my motel, and I'm not going to let them if I can help it.”

 Baumbach, though not clear on all the details she insisted were being handled by an  employee of the motel,  said arrangements were being made with the “meth lab people” to come and evaluate the rooms. She said she wasn't sure when they would be coming or from where.

Sheriff's office spokesperson Lt. Scott Tummond said Tuesday that meth was being maunufactured in two rooms at the motel. What's deemed a “lab” isn't always what one expects, with beakers and test tubes and such, he said. Nowadays, it's often just a container of chemicals left to interract, producing, after some time, meth crystals. A Gatorade bottle full of a milky chemical substance, as well as chemicals known to be used in the production of the drug, were found in the task force raid, he said.