A helicopter flew over Highway 49, unmarked government cars crowded the road at the bridge over the South Fork Yuba River and men in camouflage headed into the brush early Wednesday in a raid on a second marijuana plantation in the area.
The pot was found growing in an area across the river from another plantation that police raided on Friday near the Independence Trail, Nevada County Sheriff's Lt. Bill Evans said.
The raid began at first light, but agents began their briefing for the raid at 3 a.m., sheriff's Capt. Ron Smith said.
Sheriff's investigators teamed up with a special enforcement team from the Grass Valley Police Department; agents from the United States Bureau of Land Management, which owns the property; the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; and CAMP, the California Department of Justice's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, Evans said.
The plantation of 3,000 immature bushes was smaller than the more than 19,000 maturing plants found during last week's raid of a Mexican drug cartel operation, Evans said.
"We believe there's a connection," Evans said.
Investigators found no one guarding the smaller plantation Wednesday, though they brought along search dogs to track anyone who may have tried to escape, Smith said.
During last week's raid, three Mexican citizens who had been guarding the plantation were arrested. They remain in custody at Wayne Brown Correctional Facility, Smith said. It remained unclear whether federal or local prosecutors would handle the case against them.
Half the plants found Wednesday had been freshly watered, Smith said.
"There's a very elaborate watering system that uses a natural spring that's up there," Smith said.
"They built a dam, a cistern and a water holding pond that was covered so leaves can't get it. It's engineered in such a way that it provides pressure for the water for the individual plants," Smith added.
"It looks like they had been growing it there for ... many seasons," Smith said.
Agents went into the brush Wednesday prepared for a fight: During the Friday raid, investigators had found a bunker with a height advantage and plenty of cover and two firearms, Smith said.
"They're speculating that when the teams went to the (second) garden, the occupants split, because they didn't see anyone in the garden," Smith said. The plantation raided Wednesday also showed no signs of people living there, unlike last week's site.
For more than a year, local authorities have been concerned about Mexican drug cartels moving marijuana operations into Nevada County.
Cartels increasingly have been planting marijuana in remote areas of California, guarded by Mexican nationals who sometimes have been forced into the work at gunpoint. Traffickers then use profits from pot sales to finance large methamphetamine laboratories in Mexico and the United States, many in Southern California.
To contact City Editor Trina Kleist, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4230.