IT’S ROUGH, rugged and unforgiving terrain.
Hard to reach, almost impossible to navigate on foot but perfect for concealing almost $10 million worth of cannabis.
Now, police have smashed the region’s drug trade, sending almost 5000 cannabis plants up in smoke.
Dozens of specialist officers and a police helicopter have helped to dismantle the sophisticated watering systems which had been bolstering the cannabis crops, growing in remote locations across the New England.
The crop seizure has not only put a stop to a flood of illegal cannabis into the community, its also prevented millions of dollars from landing in the pockets of drug kingpins.
“The quantity of cannabis seized makes it clear that these plants were purely for a commercial purpose,” Inspector Roger Best told The Leader.
“No doubt they would have hit the streets of our communities in the new year.”
The Police Airwing led the four day search from above last Monday, as officers moved in on bushland and properties near Tenterfield, Deepwater, Gibralter Range National Park, Red Range, Dundee and Glen Innes.
What they discovered was far from a bush set up.
It took two days to search Wytaliba – a 1400 hectare property where 60 cannabis crops alone were unearthed.
“The infrastructure used to cultivate these plants was very sophisticated with camouflaged water reservoirs and buried irrigation pipes,” Inspector Best said.
“Significant effort had been made to make these sites inaccessible and police were forced to scale very rugged terrain.
“It’s difficult to search and without the assistance of the police helicopter it would be almost impossible to locate these plants.”
The joint Cannabis Eradication Program (CEP) between New England police and the State Crime Command’s Drug Squad ended on Friday when the 4860 cannabis plants were destroyed, reduced to a puff of smoke.
Each plant was worth about $2000, but high quality cannabis can fetch up to $4000 per pound on the street.
This crop – $9.7 million in total – was by far the biggest they’ve seized in many years in the New England, despite the bleak weather that blanketed the search areas.
“Its a testament of the hard work and dedication of the drug squad and local police who had to work in difficult terrain,” Inspector Best said.
“Searches for a number of days were hampered by deteriorating weather conditions and the searching time by the helicopter was significantly reduced.”
One man has been ordered to front Glen Innes Local Court next year on charges of cultivating cannabis plants, but police maintain destroying the crops is the main priority and charges will follow.
“The CEP is an operation that concentrates on finding and destroying as many cannabis plants as possible during the allocated time,” Inspector Best said.
“We utilise the CEP with a number of other operations and covert investigative techniques which
are designed to maximise the identification and prosecution of offenders.
“A recent example of this was the conviction of Huu Nguyen in Armidale District Court for cultivation of a prohibited plant.”