Law enforcement authorities said they found and burned more than 9,000 marijuana plants in Stevinson with an estimated street value of $9.4 million.
Early Saturday morning, the Merced/Mariposa HIDTA Task force, along with deputies and the helicopter from the Merced Sheriff's Office, responded to a report about marijuana growing in the Stevinson area south of Highway 140 near Highway 165.
Thirteen officers took part.
Once in Stevinson they found 9,353 marijuana plants in various stages of growth. It took the officers eight hours to eradicate the plants. The total street value of the marijuana was conservatively estimated at $1,000 a plant which would be $9.4 million total for the entire grow, according to Deputy Tom MacKenzie.
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The officers had to get boats to access the grow since it was located on an island on the other side of a tributary of the San Joaquin River. Once they started in, the helicopter reported three to four suspects running across the countryside on foot before the agents could get into position. After the agents crossed the river, they found a makeshift camp where the garden tenders were staying while maintaining the grow.
Investigators believe the marijuana garden may be tied to an organized crime syndicate out of Mexico, MacKenzie said. This is the beginning of the marijuana growing season, and agents plan to eradicate more gardens throughout the summer, MacKenzie said.