>>By John Devitt
Summer 2012, Issue #29
The pickup truck I ride in winds its way through suburbia in Salmon Arm. The crew and I are on our way to a former marijuana grow op to spend the day clearing it of who knows what. The houses we pass look brand new, probably only built within the past few years. Mastercraft ski boats sit in most the driveways along with children’s play sets and basketball hoops. We pull into the driveway of the “house” next to a family run daycare. The neighbourhood could be anywhere.
Chuck Ferguson, owner and operator of Revy Holdings, takes me through the front door of this million-dollar home. A man of countless trades, one of Chuck’s many businesses is in the field of property management. Recently he was hired to clear out a home that had been used as an illegal grow operation.
“I can’t believe they just left all this stuff here,” he says as we wander through the fully furnished main floor. The smell of chemicals assaults me before we’ve even gone a few steps.
In the garage the wall is ripped open to reveal the electrical intake. It is clear the wiring had been spliced to hook up to a generator to bypass the B.C. Hydro Smart Meter connected on the exterior wall. Once we move into the basement the scale of the operation becomes even clearer. Venting and ducts are punched through walls everywhere. Rooms filled with stepped shelving hold approximately 500 pots full of dried out, mouldy dirt left over from when the police busted the operation last fall. After only 20 minutes all we can taste are the chemicals in our throats. This grow op has used industrial grade fertilizers, which helps to increase yield. Donning protective masks we begin the daylong task of ripping out all signs of this operation.
Back in Revelstoke, RCMP Staff Sergeant Jacquie Olsen tells me homes like these need to be completely renovated before they can be made livable again.
Amazingly neighbours in the area had no idea the house in question had been used as a large-scale marijuana grow op.
“The house cannot be legally sold in that condition,” she says, “ The health risks are enormous not to mention damage to the plumbing and electrical systems. For example the grow op house that was found on Nichol Road [in Revelstoke] needed extensive renovations.”
As we cleaned out the basement room by room we came across dozens of garbage bags full of dirt. When I ask Olsen she explains this was likely used soil already contaminated with industrial level chemicals.
Rooms filled with stepped shelving hold approximately 500 pots full of dried out, mouldy dirt left over from when the police busted the operation last fall.
“This isn’t the Miracle Grow you find at the hardware store,” she says. “It has to be disposed of somehow and more often than not they’ll just toss it into a river somewhere.”
In its purest form those chemicals are simply dumped straight down the drain all ending up in the water supply. I tell Olsen about the stench and taste of those chemicals and how easy it was to remove drywall by hand. Rotted through it would just peel straight off the studs.
“Think of all those poisonous, mouldy materials just ending up in the landfill after, as well,” she says.
Amazingly neighbours in the area had no idea the house in question had been used as a large-scale marijuana grow op. Frequently throughout the day people would stop us as we were throwing dozens of two-by-six’s into the massive dumpster asking what we were doing.
Despite the family atmosphere of this busy neighbourhood no one knew what had been going on. The growers would transport materials in and out during the night most likely appearing as they were renovating the basement.
Olsen explains Revelstoke is a good place for these kinds of operations to hide out.
“We’re in the middle of nowhere with lots of area and not a lot of established residents.”
She is referring to the many rental homes owned by absentee landlords, endemic of a resort community. “Done properly, neighbours would never notice if the house next to theirs was being used to grow marijuana.”
Indoor and outdoor grow operations are all over Revelstoke; more than you may think. Olsen is unable to comment on specifics due to on going investigators, however, she explains the outdoor conditions in the region are ideal for those who know how to grow.
Substance abuse in Revelstoke is prevalent. Olsen cites crystal meth, crack, ecstasy and large amounts of cocaine and marijuana as problematic in the community.
“Abuse of anything is a problem,” she says. “Some of the stronger, uglier drugs used once already constitute abuse … compared with 20 or 30 years ago the THC value of marijuana is much, much higher than it was putting it on par with some of the stronger narcotics.”
The environmental impacts of these operations cannot be understated. After spending all day clearing out the basement our work crew drains bottle after bottle of water to try and get rid of the chemical taste in our mouths.
The house is a complete write-off. I can only imagine the extent of renovations needed before a family can live in it. Likely it will have to be completely stripped to determine how much rot has occurred to the frame and then rebuilt from the inside out.
As we get ready to leave after this tough job another neighbour drops over to see what we’ve been up to. After telling him he shares the rumour that there is another one of these grow houses just a couple of doors down the block.
Pulling away from the house and winding our way back out of the suburban streets it is easy to wonder how many more are hidden away in plain sight among hundreds of homes in this upscale neighbourhood.
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