By KEVIN BOWDEN
By the time they cut down the last marijuana plant from a heavily wooded hillside west of Hornbeak Wednesday evening, local authorities had seized an estimated 362,000 marijuana plants with a street value of about $434 million.
The marijuana growing operation was discovered Monday evening by the Obion County Sheriff’s Department and by Wednesday morning the scene was crawling with law enforcement agents from across the state.
It’s being called one of the largest, if not the largest, marijuana bust in the state.
Initially it was estimated there were at least 50,000 mature marijuana plants being grown over an approximate 10-acre site but that number kept growing as more and more plants were discovered throughout the day Wednesday.
Law enforcement officials had to use four-wheelers to haul out load after load of marijuana plants and brought out the last plants shortly after sunset Wednesday, according to Chief Deputy Kent Treece.
He was joined at the scene by Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder, several local deputies and experienced law enforcement agents from the Governor’s Task Force on Marijuana Eradication, the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Tennessee Highway Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Obion County Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder told The Messenger a mature marijuana plant will generate about a pound of marijuana with an estimated street value of about $1,200.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge T.J. Jordan said the marijuana plants seized this week were “very mature … very potent.”
He went on to say the scope of the marijuana growing operation was “unbelievable” and used such adjectives as “sophisticated,” “elaborate” and “massive” to describe the scene where the marijuana was actually being grown and harvested.
Dump trucks from the Obion County Highway Department had to be used to haul the massive amount of marijuana plants from the site Wednesday. The dump trucks were kept inside the Obion County Criminal Law Enforcement Complex overnight and the marijuana plants were scheduled to be incinerated early today.
Those law enforcement officials working at the site were soaked in sweat Wednesday as they worked to gather up the marijuana plants and secure evidence from what was described as a “very sophisticated operation” by Vastbinder.
At the marijuana growing site, there were barracks, underground tunnels, shower facilities, generators, a kitchen, an irrigation system and lights, according to Vastbinder.
No arrests have been made so far, but the investigation is ongoing into the marijuana growing operation and law enforcement officials are analyzing evidence gathered from the site, according to Treece.
In addition to the four-wheelers, law enforcement officials also used helicopters and bulldozers as part of their operation.
“That’s the most dope I’ve ever seen and I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” Treece said Wednesday afternoon. Several other law enforcement officials at the site made similar comments.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 10.13.11