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Delta County Sheriffs seize 3,100 pot plants, worth an estimated $6.2 million August 5, 2005 - montrosepress.com
DELTA COUNTY - There are busts and then there are jackpots.
The Delta County Sheriff's Office discovered a mother lode of illicit cannabis Wednesday during fly-over operations - 3,100 mature plants at an estimated street value of $6.2 million.
The figure is based on federal estimates that each mature marijuana plant can produce $2,000 worth of the drug.
Fly-overs take place yearly in conjunction with the National Guard, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management as part of federally funded marijuana eradication efforts.
The DCSO was flying near Oak Creek west of Cedaredge when it spotted the distinctive green foliage amid the rugged terrain. It was too rough to land, Delta County Undersheriff Mark Taylor said, so crews marked the spot with a global positioning system and called in ground investigators who drove as far as they could into the area before proceeding on foot for about a mile.
Investigators found an empty campsite of crude wooden structures with tarps and suspected that the pot growers had abandoned their cash crop when they heard the choppers. Law enforcement officials also found three firearms and other evidence.
"There was evidence throughout the camp that they were the ones tending the plot," Taylor said. "They probably had miles of tubing that they used to siphon water out of Oak Creek. It was quite a sophisticated watering operation."
Crews also found several pulled plants and bundles outside the camp area, but no processed weed. Taylor said that was likely because the pot was a few weeks shy of being ready for harvest.
The pot has since been destroyed, he said.
Because the property where the pot was being grown was on public lands, no search warrant was needed.
"When it's on public land, we can just land and eradicate it or whatever we want to do with it," Taylor said. "If it's private property we need to get a search warrant."
They were able to search the structures and camp because it was deemed abandoned property, he added.
"It was pretty interesting," Taylor said. "It's not typical by any means. It's one of the biggest marijuana sites we've come across. It's not the biggest, but it is one of the top two."
The massive find ranks just below a discovery approximately seven years ago that yielded 7,000 plants.
"I think we became number one (for state eradications this time around) real fast," he added.
The DCSO and assisting agencies, including the Montrose/Delta Drug Task Force, hadn't yet determined who was cultivating the marijuana. If found, a suspect would likely face felony charges of cultivation and possession, as well as special offender charges because of the guns investigators found.
"We have no hint as to who it was," Taylor said. "That part is still under investigation. We were able to collect a lot of evidence that will hopefully lead us to some suspects. We also have a plea out to the community that if they see anything, they should call the sheriff's office."