9,200 marijuana plants found growing on islands in the Colorado River

More than 9,200 marijuana plants being grown illegally in Colorado on two islands in the middle of the Colorado River were seized Thursday in a bust by a Western Slope drug task force.

The pre-dawn raid by more than 50 local and federal law enforcement officers approaching the grow on foot and by boat also resulted in the arrest of two of three armed men guarding the operation about 100 yards from Interstate 70 in De Beque Canyon.

“It was right next to the freeway. Somebody is going to be very disappointed this year because they didn’t make a lot of money from marijuana sales,” said James Gothe, DEA spokesman from Denver.

A year after a man was caught carrying thousands of marijuana seeds in his pants pockets to an island in the river just north of the Island Acre section of James M. Robb State Park, Bureau of Land Management agents returned to the area to see if anyone had returned to the island, he said. A camp was discovered.

FBI, DEA, BLM, the U.S. Marshals office, Grand Junction police, Mesa County Sheriff’s Department were involved in months-long surveillance and the raid Thursday.

One man was able to escape. Two suspects from the state of Sinaloa in Mexico were captured and face federal charges. The men were armed with pellet guns, Gothe said.

A DEA helicopter lifted plants to a landing zone at Island Acre. Some of the plants were loaded into Mesa County Public Works dump trucks and taken to the Mesa County Landfill and mixed with sewage. Another 200 plants — and their root balls — were preserved as evidence in the federal case.

Plants were hidden behind Cottonwood trees and brush, but not completely, Gothe said.

“You could see some of the tops of the plants from the highway,” he said. “It’s just another situation of people coming here to Colorado thinking they are not going to get arrested for growing marijuana.”

Gothe noted that the black market for illegal marijuana cultivation is increasing.

“They are just preying on the people of this state,” he said.

To see more photographs of the bust visit gjsentinel.com

This story was first published on DenverPost.com