At a distance, it looks like a nice Canadian horse pasture housing a barked yard with open-air stalls lined up along one side.
A closer examination reveals the whole setup is fake, designed to cover a sophisticated muiltmillion-dollar underground cannabis-growing operation.
The horse stalls were entirely fake, according to authorities, instead disguising large vents used to keep the underground environment for the plants healthy.
“They were not at all usable,” Sergeant Lindsey Houghton, of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia (CFSEU-BC), told Horsetalk. “They just looked the part.”
“From far away, it looked like a very nice, quaint horse paddock and fenced corral, but in reality, when you got closer, it was constructed with plywood and was completely fake.”
Vent lids made from timber and aluminum were in the stalls where the horses should have been, which could be open and closed as required to regulate the environment in the bunker, Houghton said.
The bunker itself was located underneath the barked area of the yard, he said.
“It would have required a great deal of money to operate,” he said. Its generating capacity would have been enough to run a small northern community.”
Houghton said a total of 10,000 marijuana plants were seized during the operation across four rural Mission properties.
The CFSEU-BC had support in the raids last Friday morning from the Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team, the Surrey Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and police air services.
Authorities executed search warrants on five properties and arrested five men in relation to marijuana-growing operations believed to be linked to motorcycle gang members.
The first warrant was executed at a residence in Langley, where a 34-year-old man believed to be the caretaker of all the operations was arrested without incident.
The remaining warrants were executed in Mission, where marijuana-growing operations were found at four addresses. Two were in Sylvester Road, one in Dewdney Trunk Road, and the fourth in De Graff Road.
Houghton said all four growing operations were very large, with thousands of plants seized from each location for a total of about 10,000 plants.
The fake horse facilities were found at the De Graff Road property.
“Experienced officers describe it as one of the most sophisticated grow-ops they have ever seen,” Houghton said.
In addition to the arrest in Langley, two men, aged 33 and 32, both of no fixed address, were arrested trying to flee the De Graff Road bunker on foot but were quickly caught by police.
“These are not the classic marijuana grows in a closet in the basement or even ones seen in typical residential homes,” Houghton said.
“We are talking about large, highly sophisticated grows that are using the latest technology to boost the growing cycle as well as extremely high levels of security to keep the grow operation concealed from both the police and, more importantly from the grower’s perspective, from organizations that exist almost solely to steal or ‘rip’ grow-operations.
“For the owners of these grows, it is all about creating an easy, untaxed, very lucrative income stream from the production of marijuana. It’s all about money and, in this case, we believe that money is associated to organized crime.”
In addition to the 10,000 marijuana plants, there was about 200 pounds of dried marijuana seized. The marijuana has an estimated value of $C5m million to $C10 million ($US4.9 to 9.9m).
In addition to the dope, about $C20,000 was recovered from one of the addresses.
The equipment used to produce the marijuana is estimated to be valued at $C1 million. Of note, each property was operated by a natural gas generator capable of providing power to a small town.
Worth an estimated $C100,000 each, the generators had to be removed by a large crane.
In other arrests, a 33-year old Burnaby man was taken into custody inside the 14000-block Sylvester Road growing operation without incident.
A 34-year-old man of no fixed address was caught trying to run from one of the Sylvester Road operations.
All of those arrested were released from custody and drug-related charges are being considered.