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Martha Quillin, Staff Writer
The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina)

BROADWAY -- Since a drug-spotting plane from the state Highway Patrol found 35,000 marijuana plants growing in the Harnett County woods last month, Sheriff Larry Rollins has been wondering: How much more is out there?
At least another 5,000 plants, it turned out, found by a commercial pilot Rollins hired to fly over the county in search of the clandestine crop. The pilot found the operation in a remote, heavily forested area near the community of Broadway. Investigators raided the site Monday after watching it for a week.
"If they keep planting it, we're going to find it," Rollins said, standing in front of a plot of bright green marijuana plants 7 feet tall.
The site raided Monday was about three miles from the plots found last month, he said.
No arrests have been made in either case, though the sheriff has offered a reward of $5,000 for information that leads to the growers, who he suspects came from outside the area after scouting for land where they could work undetected.
Rollins said it appeared six to eight people had been living in the woods in nylon tents and tending at least 11 separate plots on about 5 acres. They had a kitchen area under the trees with a makeshift propane stove for cooking and a stash of food that included tortillas, beans, instant coffee and dozens of eggs stacked in cardboard trays on the ground in the July heat. A chair fashioned from cut saplings with a seat of twine sat near the stove.
Rainwater stood in a stock pot and puddled in a griddle, indicating it had been days since anyone had been there. Investigators think those tending the site realized immediately they had been discovered, and left without returning. Where they had been doing laundry in shallow Daniels Creek, socks, shirts and pants still hung over tree limbs to dry.
Workers had cleared sections of the forest by hand, cutting down young undergrowth in what has been managed loosely for pine timber. Rollins said officers had no reason to think that either of the landowners on whose property the plants were growing knew of the operation.
Each plot, it appeared, was being individually tended, with different workers using different techniques. Some of the plants were taller and more robust than others. Some were staked, and some were supported by strings. Some were enclosed by low stockade fences made of green sticks that had been sharpened to a point and put into the ground, presumably to keep out deer or other wildlife.
Members of the N.C. National Guard's anti-drug task force helped with the raid, along with the State Bureau of Investigation. The SBI says that a mature marijuana plant will yield about a pound of dried leaves with a street value of $2,400.

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