Public says drug treatment is needed, but not so close to houses

Four-hour hearing on Malibu Dude Ranch wellness center focuses on the safety of its nearest neighbors

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  • Dr. Detweiler answers questions at the meeting. (Photo by Anya Tikka)

  • Cowboy Tony Peet, who works at an adjacent farm, asked about the number of people who will come to the new facility (Photo by Anya Tikka)

  • Mary Smith, pictured, raised several concerns about the proposed new use. (Photo by Anya Tikka)

  • Tony Waldon, standing, represented a group from Foster Hill Road. (Photo by Anya Tikka)

By Anya Tikka

— People spoke for and against the proposed wellness center at the Malibu Dude Ranch during a public hearing on a rainy Tuesday night that lasted nearly four hours.

The ranch’s owner, Dr. Allan “Doc” Detweiler, wants to add a facility that offers therapy to people recovering from drugs or alcohol, and to those with mental health problems after they've completed their treatment and are certified drug-free.

The ranch would be re-named “Malibu Ranch Wellness Center." The current setup, with its dude ranch guests and rodeos, will continue. People in the rehabilitation program will be able to mix with guests, both on the premises and on outings.

Detweiler assured the standing-room-only audience — many of them neighbors worried the resort's new use will bring violent crime to the community — that all activities will be supervised, with 24-hour security and periodic drug testing in place.

He acknowledged there will be more traffic on Foster Hill Road, with more employees making a daily commute.

Westfall Township solicitor Robert Bernathy directed of the meeting. Supervisors and community members asked questions during sometimes heated exchanges. Opposition to the project came mostly from residents on Foster Hill Road and surrounding roads that lead to the ranch. They were represented by Tony Waldon, who stood up frequently to ask questions.

Many questions about safetyThe safety and security of residents, especially those who live close by, dominated the hearing.

How will recovered addicts be prevented from leaving the facility should they become desperate for a fix?

How will drug dealers be prevented from driving right up to the ranch?

Will this condition cause them to become violent?

Will participants have access to guns, considering there is a rifle ranch on the property?

Will participants have criminal backgrounds, or be sent to the wellness center as the result of criminal proceedings?

Will the wellness center be a kind of half-way house?

Will the wellness center drive down property values in the neighborhood?

Will services be available to county residents?

How will participants engage in outdoor activities when the dude ranch property is so limited?

“They have no access to cars, and I almost wish they did, because the only way they can get out is by walking down the road, right by my house," one resident said.

A resident who asked about the rifle ranch said she has family members in the police and Marines, and so understands and sympathizes with the issues. But she and others said post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can cause those afflicted to overreact to gun shots years afterwards. How will that play out in this setting? she asked.

An assessor who works in several surrounding counties said he did not know of a property values drop in any similar situation. A local realtor said outsiders don’t understand the local conditions that are completely different.

Another resident said her friend, a veteran, currently has a long commute to New Jersey to get the equine therapy she needs for her PTSD, and she has to pay for it.

“She would be able to take it here, and VA (Veterans Administration) would pay for it,” she said.

She apparently was denied the local GAIT program, she said.

Treatment center or rehab?There was much debate over what is a treatment center and what is a rehabilitation center.

Ranch representatives said participants will already have successfully completed their detoxification program, with a certification by medical professionals. Qualified, licensed therapists in each of the several therapies would be present at the ranch. Prescription medicines would be under lock and key, as in any away-from-home facility, Detweiler said.

A medical doctor stood up several times, asking who would pay for the treatments.

Detweiler and his representatives explained there would be no cost to taxpayers. All will be paid by private insurance, they said, offering the explanation that Medicaid is private insurance, administered through states. Some of those present accused the plan to be a scam.

Bernathy interrupted a couple of times, appealing for calm, and the meeting quieted down.The thunder striking outside elicited laughter from the audience.

A consensus emerged, in the mostly cordial meeting, of wanting the best for everyone, including those suffering from addictions or mental health conditions like PTSD.

Some passionately argued that the county needs more medical facilities and praised Detweiler for wanting to establishe the facility.

Others acknowledged the need for a facility like this — but “not here, so close to other residences.”

At the end of the meeting, Waldon asked if he could submit proposals regarding conditions of the new use.

Bernathy said he had 10 days to submit the proposed conditions. Then, he said, the supervisors will review them.

The supervisors will make their decision at their Oct. 2 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.

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