Massive meth site located and cleared
Watauga County authorities undertook this week what they believe may be one of the largest methamphetamine clean-up responses in state history.
A joint investigation by the Watauga County Sheriff's Office and Boone Police Department revealed a location in Boone used for manufacturing methamphetamine. Officers located a "meth hut" tucked in the woods off N.C. 105 and Wilson Drive, a county-owned property bordering the former Watauga High School.
After securing a search warrant Tuesday morning, detectives searched the shack and surrounding property, seizing 181 "shake and bake" meth labs and 289 discarded packages of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in meth, according to Sheriff Len Hagaman.
The total amount of pseudoephedrine seized would create about one pound of methamphetamine with a street value of about $50,000, according to the sheriff's office.
Investigators believe the site had been operational for at least six to seven months but was not visible while the leaves were on the trees, Hagaman said. He called it "chilling" to imagine the lab operating so close to a busily traveled intersection.
No arrests had been made as of Friday, but authorities have identified a man they suspect was responsible for the operation, Hagaman said. The man, whose name has not been released, is already in prison on other charges, Hagaman said.
Hagaman said he believed the man might have had 30 to 40 people helping with the operation by purchasing cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine.
Authorities spent three days investigating and clearing the site, including the removal of the small building. Because of the volume of meth labs, lab trash and chemicals, an independent crew was contracted for the clean-up, rather than the typical State Bureau of Investigation response, according to the sheriff's office.
Advanced Environmental Operations, a hazardous waste disposal team serving North and South Carolina, removed approximately 200 pounds of hazardous waste and contaminants from the site location, the sheriff's office said in a statement. Authorities spent Tuesday searching and seizing meth labs and precursors, Wednesday removing hazardous waste and Thursday cleaning the site.
The heavily camouflaged hut, located down the hill from the former WHS baseball field, contained a toilet and sink, Hagaman said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been contacted to ensure that hazardous material mitigation was done properly, Hagaman said, as it appeared the meth cook was dumping chemicals into the sink that drained to the ground.
Hagaman specifically thanked County Manager Deron Geouque for cementing a coordinated effort between law enforcement and the Watauga County Solid Waste Department, as well as county maintenance crews for their expertise and heavy equipment operations with the clean-up.
He also thanked Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford and his detectives and officers for the team effort.
"I think Chief Crawford would agree that meth is probably the ugliest and most addictive drug that has come down the pike in 40 years," Hagaman said. "Methamphetamine is a cancer eating away at our state. Meth impacts families, communities and the environment, and it's crucial we bring this problem under control."
Detectives are continuing to investigate and anticipate arrests soon, Hagaman said.