By JESSIE STENSLAND
WHIDBEY NEWS TIMES
The Island County Health Department temporarily closed down the Acorn Motor Inn in Oak Harbor Tuesday after testing showed methamphetamine contamination in a room and hallways.
The motel is the fourth business in the Oak Harbor area that have been shut down and posted with “unfit for use” orders over the last year because of meth contamination.
Carl Seim, drug enforcement officer at the Oak Harbor Police Department, said investigators had reason to believe there might be meth contamination in the motel after conducting controlled buys of the illegal drug. A confidential informant notified police that people were smoking meth inside rooms.
“Our main concern was public safety,” Seim said. “We were concerned about unsuspecting adults, and especially adults with children, who are renting rooms in the place.”
Seim explained that the Oak Harbor police rented a room in the motel two weeks ago. They asked employees at the county health department to take swabs on surfaces in room 222 to check for residue from the drug.
Health Department Director Keith Higman said employees also were able to take swabs in hallway areas, which are open to the public. The department has a grant to fund testing for meth contamination of buildings and automobiles.
Laboratory results confirmed contamination in excess of the state methamphetamine cleanup level of 0.1 micrograms per 100 square centimeters in all areas tested.
Lt. John Dyer with the Oak Harbor Police said officers helped health department employees post the “unfit for use” order and evacuated the building without any problems.
Guanlin Wang, the owner of the motel, will have to go through the expensive process of getting the building decontaminated by a certified cleanup specialist. He could not be reached for comment.
The first step, Higman said, is for the contractor to create a written work plan to reduce the contamination. After the work is completed, the health department may require additional testing to verify that the contamination is below the state standard. The property owner must pay for all the work.
Higman said the laws regarding meth contamination were originally drafted to deal with the hazards associated with clandestine labs. But health officials have learned in recent years that serious contamination can also result from meth smoke or incidental contact from meth users.
According to the “unfit for use” order, exposure to meth may cause symptoms similar to those experienced by meth users.
“Methamphetamine use or exposure can cause periods of high energy, rapid speech and breathing, increased body temperature, and increased blood pressure,” the order states.
In the last year, the county health department shut down three other businesses because of meth residue. The Island County Sheriff’s Office raided a North Whidbey car dealership in March and seized a large amount of meth. Environmental health specialists discovered the contamination after testing the O&J Sales office and several cars. The business is now closed.
Two neighboring businesses were also affected by the alleged meth use associated with the car lot. The health department temporarily shut a dance studio and a thrift store for cleaning because testing revealed contamination. The residue came into the businesses through a ventilation system from an attached unit used by employees of the car lot.
In regard to the Acorn Motor Inn, Seim said police officers have heard rumors about meth dealing at the motel for a long time, but they never had any proof until recently. He hypothesized that the inexpensive motel at the corner of Highway 20 and Barrington Drive may have been popular with drug dealers because a side door allowed people to come and go anonymously.
The controlled buys of meth at the Acorn Motor Inn led to the arrest of 23-year-old Michael “Cupcake” Koepke on suspicion of possession of meth with intent to deliver. The investigation was a joint effort between the police and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Seim alleged that Koepke was one of the biggest meth dealers on the island.
This article was originally published in the Whidbey News Times on November 13, 2009.
Jessie Stensland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.