H-SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY

Jan 19, 2011 8:25 PM by Danielle Lerner

Deputies clear out former marijuana grow operation less than a mile from major highway

Some surprising news for people living in Santa Margarita, as deputies clear out a major marijuana growing operation located less than one mile from a major highway. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Deputies believe the Mexican mafia was behind the 7,000-plant grow. It was located in the Los Padres National Forest about a quarter mile off Highway 101, near Santa Margarita. The plants were removed back in August but deputies spent Wednesday cleaning up the mess that operation left behind.

A National Guard helicopter helped deputies remove pounds of trash, irrigation tubing, fertilizers and camping equipment from the former grow site in the Los Padres National Forest. Deputies say the operation's reach extends far beyond local land.

"These are multi-million dollar ventures and it funds pretty much everything you see going on in Mexico," said Greg Beuer, a detective with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department. "The violence, the guns."

People living nearby had no idea the grow was even there.

"Surprises me, yeah it's kind of scary," said Judy Pipho who lives in Santa Margarita.

"That's crazy," said Kyle Berrigan who also lives in Santa Margarita. "I mean who would have ever thought it'd be like this close."

It's too close for comfort, deputies say drought conditions likely forced the growers to move closer to populated areas so they could steal water for irrigation.

"It is scary because our unit was shot at while we were going into a marijuana grow a few years ago," said Beuer. "They knew full well we were law enforcement but they still shot at us so a citizen just happens to walk in on it, it's really dangerous."

The grows also wreak havoc on the environment. The debris clogs nearlby creeks and the chemicals kill local wildlife.

"It's just unreal, what they do up there," said Beuer.

A joint effort to protect the community and save the environment. Meantime the search for who is responsible continues.

"It definitely will be the talk of the town for sure," said Pipho.

Since deputies still have not found the people who were running this grow no arrests have been made. However they say up to 98 percent of these local operations are run by Mexican National Drug Trafficking Organizations.

Grows like this one are an ongoing and serious problem. Deputies say they clear about 10 to 15 marijuana grows in San Luis Obispo County every year.

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