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3 local residents among those held in pot raid
Three Porterville residents were among the nine people taken into custody during Thursday’s massive marijuana garden raid on East Springville Drive, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department reported.
After a lengthy investigation a search warrant was served at the 26700 block of East Springville Drive in Porterville at 7 a.m. Thursday. The huge growing operation netted more than 2,550 plants with an estimated street value in excess of $7.6 million.
Arrested from Porterville were Manuel Chavez, 66, Elana Chavez, 59, and Efrain Zavala, 56.
Also taken into custody were two people from Orosi, one from Farmersville, one from Pasadena and one from Mexico.
The elaborate operation resulted in a more than 12-hour operation to remove the large plants, some as tall as 18-feet and heavy with growth and stocks over four inches in diameter. Tulare County Fifth District Supervisor Mike Ennis, who was at the site Thursday afternoon, said the plants looked more like orange trees.
The plants were spread over about 7 acres in several plots covered by netting. Each plant had been meticulously pruned to get the maximum amount of growth and nearly all had been propped up with posts and wire. The site also included a sophisticated drip irrigation system and fertilizer delivery system.
“We have been in gardens where there are more plants and it may take longer to eradicate, but the sheer size of what we are facing today is a challenge on its own,” stated Sgt. Steve Kennedy from the Sheriff’s Narcotics Unit.
Due to the quantity and size of the plants, heavy machinery was brought in to assist in the eradication of the grow site. Chainsaws, shears and various other cutting utensils were only able to be used on some of the plants and dulled quickly. Over 30 personnel were on site to eradicate the plants. The Sheriff’s Office also requested assistance from the County Resource Management Agency for additional machinery and dump trucks to remove the plants.
“We were very fortunate to have the assistance we did, or this site would have taken more than one day to eradicate,” Sgt. Chris Douglass shared. “These men and woman put in a lot of hard manual labor in these high temperatures to get rid of these public nuisances. They do this multiple times per week and have hundreds more sites identified that still need eradication.”
Sgt. Jim Franks supervises the Sheriff’s Tactical Enforcement Personnel (STEP) Team that is responsible for marijuana eradication details in Tulare County rural areas. His team receives numerous tips from the community regarding locations were medicinal marijuana is being grown out of compliance with the county ordinance. Earlier this week, his team served the first Summary Abatement Warrant for Tulare County, ordering a site be eradicated due to zoning and code compliance issues.
The Sheriff’s Office encourages people to provide information regarding these sites. The STEP team uses this information to determine the type of investigations that need to be done and if these sites can be linked or connected to large drug trafficking organizations.
Some sites, like the one raided Thursday, may take months to conduct a thorough investigation and make an arrest.