A large spread of debris stemming from an illegal cannabis grow finally has been removed from a highly visible Cambria meadow, according to officials monitoring the site.
The rubble was deposited there when law enforcement dismantled a large, illegal cannabis grow on a forested hilltop high above the meadow alongside the town’s southern Main Street entrance.
The trespass grow site was mostly hidden from view, even though the area is located above a busy triangle between Cambria Grammar School, Santa Lucia Middle School, Coast Union High School and Leffingwell High School.
The 1,820 mature plants removed from the hilltop site Sept. 5 weighed nearly 8,000 pounds, which law enforcement officers estimated to be worth about $1.9 million on the black market.
Property owner unaware of grow
The property’s out-of-town owner, whom officials say was unaware of the grow site, has been “100 percent cooperative” in getting the mess cleaned up and assisting with the investigation, according to Brian Hascall, retired Sheriff’s commander who signed on a couple of months ago as a temporary, part-time sergeant leading the Cannabis Enforcement Unit.
The grow was “one of the more sophisticated grows that I’ve seen” in his years with the Sheriff’s Office, Hascall said, “very complex and one of the largest I’ve seen. It was huge.”
The grow site was found by two patrol deputies looking for a reported homeless encampment.
Middle school principal Kyle Martin and employee Toby Cinque were on a high point of the school property when they got a tiny glimpse of activity on the hilltop, he said in a phone interview, but “we assumed it was a homeless encampment. We talked with our resources officer, Scott Newell, about it and pointed it out to him. He walked the area on the school grounds, and thought the same thing we did: Homeless encampment.”
The location was a concern, being so close to the schools. “While we were up there pulling plants,” Hascall said, “we could hear the middle-school students playing at recess time.”
“There are other threats that come along with something like that,” Martin said, “including environmental degradation and the comings and goings of people who are presumably of questionable character.”
No suspects identified in marijuana operation
He presumes Newell, who is a sheriff’s deputy, notified his superiors and/or the members of the department’s Community Action Team, who interact with and try to help the homeless while encouraging the abandonment and cleanup of illegal encampments.
By the time a team of detectives from the Sheriff’s Office Cannabis Enforcement Team, Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials arrived on the scene, they knew what deputies had discovered earlier, a fairly sophisticated grow with seven hoop houses, four large water tanks, an extensive drip-irrigation system, large chemical tanks for pesticides, generators and an electrical panel to supply power, according to a news release. A biologist and Animal Services workers accompanied the team.
No suspects have been located, but the investigation remains active and ongoing.
Martin said the circumstances leading up to the discovery reinforced the vital importance of something being regularly preached these days: “If you see something out of the ordinary, let people know. We have a lot of good resources in this county, and working together, we can get things resolved.”