The meth contamination at the Burlington motel was so prevalent the testing lab thought its machines were wrong, said Mayor Steve Sexton.
BURLINGTON — The city of Burlington has advised residents of the Sterling Motor Inn to leave the motel until further notice after tests found widespread high levels of methamphetamine contamination.
Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton recommended Friday that residents evacuate and leave behind their belongings, which are likely contaminated. Testing found contamination was above the state standard that would require cleanup in all the rooms but one. One of the contaminated rooms was found to have 173 times the state standard for methamphetamine residue.
The contamination was so prevalent the testing lab thought its machines were wrong, Sexton said.
About 35 to 50 people appeared to be staying at the motel, long- or short-term.
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On Friday night, the city set up a shower station for residents of the motel in the one room that tested clean enough for occupancy, City Administrator Bryan Harrison said.
Pioneer Human Services and Community Action of Skagit County were at the site with donated clothes, and the city was offering transportation and up to a 10-night stay at a nearby hotel for displaced residents.
The city’s top priority is getting residents out of the motel and into a safe environment, Sexton said.
“We have knowledge that there is unhealthful, unsafe levels of meth contamination and we feel obligated to notify those folks and help in any way we can,” he said.
The city is in talks with numerous organizations, including Community Action, Pioneer Human Services, the Red Cross and Pioneer Transition House, to help residents.
Although Sexton said some will be able to find temporary housing on their own, quite a few likely will become homeless.
On Thursday evening, the city placed notices on vacant rooms at the motel with a warning not to enter or occupy the space.
Harrison said many who stay at the motel do so because they have limited options. Some of the residents are families with small children; some residents are elderly. Sexton said it is heartbreaking to think of the contamination they are exposed to on a daily basis.
Connie Bellehumeur, who lives with her daughter and two grandchildren at the motel, said she is scared of what will happen now.
Bellehumeur, 64, has a medical condition and requires a device to administer her medicine. She said she is worried about not being able to bring the machine with her after being asked to leave all belongings behind.
The state requires cleanup when methamphetamine contamination reaches 1.5 micrograms per 100 square centimeters.
The Skagit County Public Health Department was notified of the levels and has the authority to take action when there is a known public-health hazard, Sexton said.
At this point, the county has not acted, he said.
“If the Skagit County Public Health Department doesn’t act at this level, then they should disband and save taxpayer dollars,” Sexton said.
County spokeswoman Bronlea Mishler said the county health department’s role is to provide education and guidance for those involved.
The Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office gave the health department a legal opinion on the matter, Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich said.
“We told them they could not immediately evict those people,” he said.
His office was notified of the city’s plans Thursday afternoon and was not involved in the decision making, Weyrich said.
Joon Um, the manager of the motel, said the motel’s problems are out of his hands.
Troy Benofsky has lived with his two children at the motel for about two months.
“My kids and I have started from nothing before,” he said. “We will bounce back and continue on.”