In Trinity County, a mountain of pot plagues code enforcers

5:14 PM, Oct 21, 2010   |    comments
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Trinity County
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SLIDESHOW: Pot growers in Trinity County

TRINITY COUNTY, CA -- In the rural subdivision of Trinity Pines, near the town of Hayfork, hundreds of medical marijuana growers operate in the open. The vast majority of Post Mountain is their operating ground, earning that area the nickname of Pot Mountain.

It has become a nightmare for local environmental code enforcers, not just because of the trail of waste left by pot growers, but because the area has become known as a haven for marijuana cultivation.

On some street signs, the "s" in "Post Mountain Road" has been crossed out by the locals.

"That's our concern, is that people will see it as a destination," said Rick Tippett, director of transportation in Trinity County.

Tippett also oversees much of the county's environmental code enforcement. He estimates there are at least 800 private lots in the Trinity Pines subdivision, all of which are home to marijuana grows.

"We don't have an exact number on it," he admitted.

"I know I don't want to go there," said marijuana grower Blayne Battishell, who operates in Hayfork. The operation has 198 plants, but they grow in the open, obeying medical marijuana laws and environmental codes.

Battishell has never been to Pot Mountain, though he has heard what goes on there.

"The (growers) just have a totally different motive as far as I know," he said. "We've just heard that people up there have trash everywhere, stuff like that, you know?"

Tippett and his team of code enforcers travel to Pot Mountain every so often to check on possible environmental violations.

They never have trouble finding them.

"You come up here, and you see what's going on environmentally, and it's just amazing," said Tippett.

Most of the properties are lined with signs that say "keep out," "no trespassing," and "beware of dog." While accompanying code enforcers on a trip through the area, media were not allowed on the first property that was visited. Standing on the road, several marijuana plants could be clearly seen through the trees.

County Planner Frank Lynch saw a lot more than that inside.

"They've gone in and cleared all the timber off the property, on a fairly steep slope. They've not done any erosion control," said Lynch. "This is fairly common in this area, so it's no surprise to us."

County officials said the growers come in the spring and stay through the summer, to harvest. Many of them leave trash and chemicals, often letting it flow into water ways.

Grower Nevin Belvedere has been busted before, and after another visit from Tippett, he's in trouble again. They cite him for improper forest conversion: cutting down trees to grow his pot.

"I'm doing something that's not too illegal, everybody's doing it," said Belvedere. "I'm not afraid of police. I'm not a criminal."

Belvedere was right when he said he's not alone in his actions. Many other growers on Pot Mountain clear out trees -- in some cases, dozens of them -- to allow more sun light to nourish their marijuana. In some cases, properties resemble a logging operation.

"I'd liken it to what we saw in the Gold Rush days, when there wasn't a care for what they were doing," said Tippett.

He and his team of code enforcers go on patrol when they can, issuing environmental citations. But he believes only five or six per cent fix their violations and stay in compliance.

In Tippett's mind, the solution is clear: they need more state funding for more resources, so they can hire staff to enforce codes.

"It's really hard when you have a small county, with a small jurisdiction," said Tippett. "Trinity County is a place where we don't want growers to think they can come up here, grow marijuana, disobey the laws, and think they can get away with it."

For Tippett, that is the challenge: to keep his county from existing as a place that many people already see as a pot grower's paradise.

Written by Will Frampton, wframpton@news10.net

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