When authorities crack down on illegal drugs coming across the border, smugglers come up with new and inventive ways to get their product into the United States. A growing trend law enforcement agencies are having to deal with takes border patrol and customs agents out of the picture completely.
The Walker County Sheriff's Office was alerted last Friday to a massive illegal marijuana growing operation in a rural portion of the county off FM 2989 north of Huntsville. More than 5,200 plants valued at approximately $7.8 million were discovered spread out across 10 to 20 acres in a heavily wooded area.
"The cartels are getting smarter," Capt. Tim Whitecotton with the Walker County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday. "All you have to do is get on Google and type any county — Walker, Madison, Polk, San Jacinto — in East Texas and marijuana bust and you will see that there are major operations like this all over. The cartels find remote places where there is not a lot of activity and send some guys out in the woods to start growing marijuana. All they need is an adequate water supply."
This marijuana growth was uncovered when an employee was out surveying land for a timber company about three-quarters of a mile off FM 2989. Investigators found three gas-operated water pumps, which were pulling water from a creek and providing it to the plants through "miles and miles" of hoses, Whitecotton said.
When authorities first arrived at the scene, they encountered a Hispanic male about 6 foot, 2 inches tall in his late 20s or early 30s who fled the scene on foot. Deputies also found a campsite.
"It used to be easier to find large growths like this because they would just plant them in an open field and they were easy to see while searching from the sky," Whitecotton said. "Now they plant them in smaller clumps close to trees and around brush where they can still get sunlight. They camp out in the woods the entire time to fertilize the plants and tend to them.
"They do not do anything to draw attention. No fires. They eat canned goods and leave the trash everywhere. We found a lot of empty Ensure drinks laying around. And they have handlers who put supplies in bags and toss it on the side of the road so it just looks like bags of trash someone threw out."
The Sheriff's Office took down a similar operation in the county almost five years ago. With the assistance of multiple agencies, 2,560 marijuana plants were located on a piece of property in southeast Walker County valued at close to $4 million.
A semi-automatic rifle was also recovered in that bust.
“I would like to encourage people to be aware of their surroundings for their safety because there could be suspects growing dope out there,” Sheriff Clint McRae said. “We don’t want them to get into legal trouble if there is illegal substances growing on their property. If you see something suspicious, call the appropriate authorities immediately and let us handle it. These people sitting on these illegal sites can be armed and dangerous."
For more information or to report suspicious activity, contact the Walker County Sheriff’s Office at (936) 435-2400.