On Tuesday, May 22, 2018, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) served two search warrants to investigate the illegal cultivation of marijuana in the area of Rancho Sequoia Drive near Alderpoint. The following agencies assisted the DEU: Wardens from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), Biologists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, CAL Fire law enforcement officers and personnel, specialists from the Humboldt County Environmental Health and HAZMAT Unit, Humboldt County Code Enforcement officers and personnel from the State Water Board.
Three parcels were investigated during the service of the search warrants. Two of the parcels did not possess a commercial cannabis permit with the County of Humboldt and the third parcel’s commercial cannabis application had been withdrawn. The DEU located eight greenhouses during the service of the search warrants. Six of the greenhouses contained grow lights that would enable the greenhouses to cultivate marijuana year-round. Eight subjects were detained during this investigation. Hector Merdrano Escalante, 37, of Redway, was arrested for felony cultivation of marijuana, conspiracy to commit a crime, streambed alteration without a permit and depositing hazardous material in or near a waterway. In total, the DEU located and eradicated 10,609 growing marijuana plants.
CDFW biologists located the following environmental violations during their investigation:
- Four sediment delivery water pollution violations
- One deposition of trash into a stream violation
- One stream alteration violation
- One water diversion violation
Humboldt County Code Enforcement officers located the following violations during their investigation:
- Grading without a permit
- Building without a permit
- Commercial marijuana ordinance violations
- Development in a streamside management area without a permit
- Unapproved sewage disposal system
- Improper storage and removal of solid waste
The HAZMAT Unit located the following violations during their investigation:
- Failure to file a HAZMAT business plan
- No spill prevention countermeasures and control plan
- No secondary containment measures
- Failure to prevent the release of hazardous material
- Discharging hazardous waste to soil
- No lids or labels on hazardous waste containers
- Unauthorized hazardous waste storage
- Mismanagement of lead/acid batteries
- No EPA ID numbers
HAZMAT personnel located 1,900 gallons of diesel fuel and 220 gallons of waste oil stored on one of the parcels.
State Water Board personnel located the following violations during their investigation:
- Excavation of a watercourse
- No regional board report regarding discharge
- Discharge without regional board report
- Multiple basin plan violations
All criminal violations stemming from the marijuana cultivation investigation will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s office for review. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office maintains a cooperative relationship with all agencies that participated in this investigation. All future investigations into non-compliant marijuana operations will continue to be investigated in this manner.
Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at (707) 445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at (707) 268-2539.