Grundy County deputy stumbles on $37 million in pot plants

photo Grundy County, Tenn., Sheriff's Deputy Derrick Morrison watches as a pile of marijuana plants is burned behind the Grundy County Sheriff's Office on Thursday. The harvest was confiscated off Taylor Road near Gruetli-Laager, Tenn., by GCSD, DEA and TBI officers and had a street value of $37 million.

ALTAMONT, Tenn. - A Grundy County deputy's trip into the woods led to this week's discovery of a large outdoor marijuana-growing operation and almost 40,000 plants worth $37 million.

Grundy County Sheriff Brent Myers hand counted the first 2,000 large marijuana plants that were found growing in large wooden boxes on private property at the end of Taylor Road in Gruetli-Laager, near Savage Gulf State Natural Area.

"It's probably the largest seizure in the county from one piece of property," Myers said.

Myers said the deputy first spotted a "soaker" hose Wednesday lying on the ground while he was walking in the remote area that appeared to be a tree farm that had partially been clear cut some years ago and now is high brush. The deputy followed the hose, found 30 to 50 plants and notified the sheriff's office.

As officers late Wednesday and on Thursday collected the first plants, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Governor's Task Force on Marijuana Eradication and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents teamed up with a helicopter from the Tennessee Highway Patrol and began scouting the area, locating an estimated 35,000 more pot plants by midafternoon, according to local, state and federal officials.

A helicopter, two 5-ton military trucks and two one-ton trucks were used to haul the pot plants back to the sheriff's office in Altamont, where they were burned.

Myers said the growing boxes were dry-rotted and appeared to have been in use for the past "two or three years." The plants were being watered from reservoirs constructed near each group of boxes.

An electric generator was being used to pump water from an old well at a nearby abandoned home to the reservoirs and PVC pipe connected the reservoirs to the plant boxes. The sheriff said the home and property belong to a Florida man who rarely visits it.

Authorities say they have one suspect, who had not been charged as of late Thursday, and believe that others were helping him. There were bags of fertilizer near the growing boxes and bags of potting soil presumably used for planting the illegal weed.

"It was too big an operation for just one person," Myers said.

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TBI spokesman Josh DeVine said that while the find wasn't "record breaking," it was a blow to illegal pot- growing activity in Grundy County.

"It's certainly a substantial amount for law enforcement," DeVine said, adding that the agencies will work together to determine the scope of the operation.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@times or or or 423-757-6569.