Terrace homeowners could soon be tagged with high fees and service costs if their properties are found in hazardous conditions and emergency crews are called in to clean it up.
City council is looking at a Controlled Substance Property Remediation bylaw that would authorize certain city officials right of entry and inspection, and forward the charge of the drug cleanup to the owners.
Local RCMP Inspector Eric Stubbs and Const. Tim Russell explained the reasoning behind setting up the bylaw at a city council meeting Aug. 10.
Stubbs said the bylaw would deal with health risks the properties pose to the community in manufacturing the controlled substances, and eliminate the cleanup cost to taxpayers.
He highlighted the meth lab bust in the basement of a residence on the 4700 block of Scott Ave. last year as an example.
"Dismantling these types of operations pose a number of risks to both the occupiers of those residences, as well as their neighbours, as well as...those enforcing search warrants," he said.
"These particular labs have to be dealt with in a careful, prudent, and safe way, that is very expensive," he continued, noting that materials need to be moved, stored, shipped and disposed of in a particular way, which can cost a lot of money.
While the RCMP could not provide specific costs of the meth lab cleanup last year or how much the city has been billed for drug cleanup over the years, Stubbs said last year's meth lab cleanup was expensive, with the cost of chemical transport for last year's bust alone quoted between $4,000 to $7,000.
He explained the penalties and fines in the proposed bylaw as an option for the city to recoup the cleanup costs.
"It is an expensive business to dismantle," he said of the homes contaminated with the production of controlled substances, explaining it takes up time and money for the emergency crews, police, fire, and building inspectors to work on the site.
"That, in the end, gets paid by the taxpayers of Terrace."
Stubbs stressed that the bylaw would not give police carte blanche authority to get into residences.
"It is not the police's intention to walk into any house at random," Stubbs said, explaining that they are still guided by the Criminal Code and have to have warrants to conduct their investigations.
"It's not a backdoor way for us to get in there," he said, pointing out that many municipalities have similar bylaws already in place.
"This is to.....make these residences safe and protect our citizens and our members...from any particular danger," Stubbs said, pointing out that there was a daycare close by to the meth lab found last year, and that these labs have the potential to explode.
"I'm not trying to fear-monger, that's the reality," he said.
Russell said the bylaw would help address a serious problem.
"The likelihood that this will continue is very high. It's a very addictive drug," he said of meth, explaining there have been two houses found in the last five years.
City councillors voiced their concerns about the right of entry, but was told that the police still need to abide by the rules of the Criminal Code.
But councillor Bruce Martindale was concerned that the bylaw puts too much pressure on landlords, who also have the potential to be charged the high costs.
"There's so much of an onus on them to pay up, that there has to be a way for us to help them to do better inspections," he said, advocating for an educational component to let landlords know what they can do.
Stubbs agreed, said owners had the right to enter and inspect their property, and pointed out that there is a provision of no fees if owners report their findings to the police. But he said that owners needed to be aware.
"Landlords have to be vigilant on who they're allowing into their properties and what goes on within their properties," he said.
Council will be discussing the matter more in upcoming meetings.