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Left to clean up the meth mess

Property owners face hefty bills, stiff laws over former drug sites

Leon Evans grew tired of ongoing drug activity at a Central Point neighbor's property, so he decided in 1995 to purchase the five-acre parcel at 210 Latigo Lane.

The year before, police had stormed a metal shed on the property and arrested four people, including a previous owner, after finding an operational methamphetamine lab there. The discovery prompted the state to list the building as unfit for use because officials said exposure to chemicals used in the manufacturing of meth could pose a health hazard.

Evans' property remains on the state list because he refuses to fork over thousands of dollars to have the shed tested and certified as a safe building.

I am not going to pay &

36;3,000 or more for the state to say it's clean, Evans said. Whoever is pushing this crap should be thankful we took over the place. The only nuisance we didn't get rid of was the state.

The Latigo Lane shed is one of 16 Jackson County properties listed as unfit for use because of drug-lab contamination. Other listed buildings include homes, apartments and a motel room, according to state data.

— In neighboring Josephine County, the listed properties total 46 ' more than in any other Oregon county.

Once a property is listed, it becomes illegal for anyone ' including its owner ' to go inside unless he is under the supervision of a certified clean-up agency. Those who defy the law could face criminal trespass charges, said Brett Sherry, an environmental health specialist with the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Sherry said that while the majority of the properties made the list because of drug-making activities by renters, it is the owners' responsibility to pay for the clean-up or have the building destroyed.

A lot of property owners get angry when they learn that, Sherry said.

Some owners have insurance that covers part of the cost of property assessment and clean-up, according to DHS.

The multi-step cleaning process could cost anywhere from &

36;5,000 to &

36;15,000, depending on the size of the building and the extent of the damage, said Sean Neilson of the Neilson Research Corp. in Medford. The company is one of only two state-licensed decontamination contractors in Jackson County.

Neilson said his company, which also runs a Portland office, has conducted hundreds of clean-up operations since the state program began in 1990. While many property owners resist paying for the decontamination procedure, Neilson said plenty of others are eager to get their properties taken off the unfit-for-use list.

Most people are pretty motivated to get it back on the market and rented, Neilson said.

In November 2003, 18 Jackson County properties were listed. Nine of those have since been decontaminated, according to state data. Once DHS reviews a cleaned property and approves of the work, owners are issued a certificate indicating it is fit for re-occupancy.

The state has no law that penalizes owners for failing to clean their properties.

So at this time, Evans has no plans to hire a certified decontamination crew and get his shed taken off the unfit-for-use list.

I'll just leave it empty if they think it's not inhabitable, he said. I bought (the property) for more than it was worth. All I was trying to do was prevent (drug activity) from happening right outside our front yard.

Unfit for use across Jackson County

210 Latigo Lane, Central Point. Listed Oct. 4, 1994.

26649 Highway 62, Trail. Listed Nov. 12, 1998.

301 Elm St., Phoenix. Listed Feb. 22, 1999.

8783 West Evans Creek Road No. B, Rogue River. Listed Oct. 29, 1999.

86 Crowson Road, Ashland. Listed Feb. 11, 2000.

3903 Highway 234, White City. Listed April 28, 2000.

910 Schieffelin Gulch Road, Gold Hill. Listed July 31, 2001.

3150 Willow Springs Road, Central Point. Listed Oct. 3, 2001.

205 Chestnut St., Medford. Listed Sept. 24, 2003.

3777 Falcon St. No. 29, White City. Listed March 9, 2004.

2517 S. Pacific Highway No. 7, Medford. Listed April 9, 2004.

6285 Rogue River Highway Unit 17, Grants Pass. Listed June 9, 2004.

3995 Avenue H, White City. Listed June 17, 2004.

137 Garden Row, Gold Hill. Listed Aug. 4, 2004.

2688 Crater Lake Highway No. 17, Medford. Listed Aug. 16, 2004.

501 Walnut St., Medford. Listed Jan. 10, 2005.

For more information, visit

Reach reporter Jack Moran at 776-4459, or e-mail .

A shed on Leon Evans? property on Latigo Lane in Central Point has been deemed ?unfit for use? by the state because someone had operated a meth lab there before he bought the land. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven