Thousands of marijuana plants seized

The plants gathered in Columbia County had an estimated street value of $11 million.

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On a ridgeline above Sheep Creek Drainage at the Garfield/Columbia County borderline a CERT (Cannabis Eradication Response Team) member transfers large bundles of marijuana plants seized earlier in the week from one truck to another in preparation for new plants seized Wednesday, August 17, 2010 from a grow in Columbia County. Wednesday, August 17, 2010

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Wearing a marijuana eradication patch on his camo uniform, Walla Walla Police Department officers Chris Buttice (left) and partner Steve Harris (right) meet with other law enforcement agencies outside Dayton City Hall before an early morning operation to eradicate a marijuana grow in Sheep Creek Drainage in Columbia County near the border with Garfield County. Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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A CERT member shows off a roughly five-foot-tall marijuana plant seized earlier in the week by the Washington State Patrol Short-Haul Team. Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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A CERT (Cannabis Eradication Response Team) member short-hauls from a static-line attached to a helicopter into a marijuana grow in Sheep Creek Drainage in Columbia County on the border with Garfield County Tuesday morning. Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Watch video of the marijuana eradication below.

DAYTON -- A team of area law enforcement officers seized 4,562 marijuana plants in a remote part of Columbia County on Tuesday.

The estimated street value of the plants is $11 million, Columbia County narcotics Deputy Jeff Jenkins said this morning.

The marijuana was removed by helicopter due to the steep terrain, Jenkins said.

The seizure was the result of a three-week investigation that began at the end of July when the plots were discovered by air surveillance.

Two or three people had camped at the site, but they were no longer there Tuesday.

The plants were growing on a steep forested hillside in terraced gardens watered by irrigation pipe connected to a small creek, Jenkins said.

The plot was most likely a "Mexican national grow" Jenkins said. He said the people in the camp, also located on a terrace, were definitely Hispanic, based on evidence left behind. It appeared the camp had been vacated one or two weeks ago, Jenkins said.

Agencies participating in the operation included Washington State Patrol, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Forest Service, Columbia County, Walla Walla County, Garfield County sheriff's offices and city of Walla Walla police.

The state Cannabis Eradication Response Team funded the operation.

This is the first grow discovered this year, but Jenkins said there are likely to be more as "there are more grows up there that we haven't discovered."

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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