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Paynesville Press - March 31, 2004

County board addresses under-age drinking and meth labs

By Michael Jacobson

The Stearns County Board of Commissioners took the following actions at their meeting on Tuesday, March 16.

*The commissioners agreed to apply for a $5,000 planning grant from the Minnesota Join Together Coalition in an attempt to a crack down on adults who supply liquor to minors. One of the goals of this project is to help adults understand their responsibility for never providing alcohol to those under the age of 21. The focus is also on training law enforcement on intervening at parties - what information they need to gather that will allow the prosecution to move forward and the importance of concentrating on the adults who supplied the alcohol at the party as well as the kids who are drinking.

Law enforcement plans to target rural areas, where they say there's a bigger problem of minors getting liquor from adults. Similar projects have taken place in Ramsey and Chisago counties and both reported great success, noting a reduction in youth access to alcohol.

*The commissioners heard a report from the sheriff's department regarding their efforts to stop the growing number of methamphetamine labs in Stearns County. About a year ago, the commissioners directed Stearns County staff to form a Clandestine Drug Lab Task Force to tackle drug labs.

In that year, the task force busted 50 meth labs in the area. "That number grows greatly each year," said Bruce Bechtold, deputy sheriff. "We need to get a handle on what goes on in this county."

A new ordinance aimed at the investigation, prosecution, cleanup, and medical protocols of drug labs could be complete in a few months. Also, in May, educational seminars will be held for law enforcement; emergency responders; county attorney staff; court staff; county employees who deal with residual environmental impacts and cleanup; child protection workers; public health staff; and any other county employees who may come across meth labs while working in the field. Also targeted for future educational efforts will be farmers and retailers about the chemicals used to produce meth and how to report such activity. The group also hopes to create some general community awareness and plans to do education throughout the county, including in rural areas where the problem is increasing in pace.

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