TOWNSHIP 30 – Agents swooped down this week on a marijuana-growing operation Down East, where they confiscated some 1,600 plants that authorities believe was grown by Auburn residents.

Nobody was around in Township 30 in the middle of Washington County when agents arrived Tuesday.

Agents searched a house and an apartment in downtown Auburn, and in Danville. That’s where they believe the growers live. Agents said such a cross-state arrangement enables growth in a remote, unobtrusive locale, but sales in customer-rich southern Maine.

The bust is the largest Down East in more than a decade. The plants would have been worth $900,000 if they had made it to market, authorities said.

Sites had been found weeks earlier by the Maine Forest Service, which notified the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. The land where the pot was found belongs to Sustainable Forest Technology of Milford, which cooperated with police. The growers were there illegally, MDEA said.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday more than 20 officers from MDEA, the Sheriff’s Department and the Maine Warden Service rendezvoused at the Wilderness Lodge on Route 9.

Forty minutes later a parade of trucks and four-wheelers set off. They were headed toward six marijuana-growing sites in the area of Indian Ridge, just off Route 9. A helicopter was brought in by MDEA, with a man on board with binoculars.

Michael Crabtree, an MDEA supervisor, divided the men and one woman into teams.

They were warned of the hazards.

“Although agents and deputies have been in and out of these plots several times, that doesn’t mean the (growers) didn’t come in last night and set additional booby traps,” MDEA Divisional Commander Darrell Crandall said. “As I understand it, small leg-hold traps are in there. Some of them have dead animals in them. If they set leg-hold traps, they may have set other things. So just be aware of that and watch where you’re stepping and if you can’t see, don’t step.”

Crabtree led the way. A short distance later he stopped on the side of the road. For the untrained eye, it looked like any other wooded area, but just to the left of the road was a barely visible trail and a short hike to the first grow site.

Chicken wire mounted on wooden stakes surrounded the pot garden. Two leg-hold traps were nearby and difficult to see in the dark brown soil. “That signals something to me about the character of the individual that’s doing that,” Crandall said.

Officers fanned out. Some bagged evidence that included fertilizer and potting soil and black spray paint cans used to camouflage 5-gallon pails and 55-gallon drums.

Wardens examined the tags on the leg-traps and found a name, which was familiar to MDEA agents.

Crandall notified an MDEA official in Lewiston.

“Some of the suspects we have lived in his area, and we’ve given him all the information so he can apply for a search warrant to search their property to see if we can find evidence to connect them with this area,” Crandall said.

Once the evidence was collected, it was time to harvest the plants.

“Christmas is going to be a little leaner this year for some marijuana growers,” Washington County sheriff’s Cpl. Rodney Merritt said as he and others pulled plants out by their roots. One hundred forty plants were collected at the first site.

“The likelihood of finding a suspect for this is fairly high. So if we process everything now as if it was a crime scene then when we positively identify a suspect we will have all of our evidence in place,” Crandall said.

On Wednesday the plants were taken to an undisclosed storage site in southern Maine.

“It will all be laid out where it will dry and then it will be boxed up and retained until after the court case is over – if there is one,” Crandall said.

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