Pubdate: Wed, 19 Sep 2007
Source: Niagara This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Paul Forsyth
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Two Rooms Full Of Marijuana Plants Found In Vine Street Apartment

ST. CATHARINES -- A marijuana grow-op busted in a St.  Catharines
high-rise apartment building last week was a  serious electrical and
fire threat that, in a  worst-case scenario, had the potential to
leave many  families homeless, say Niagara Regional Police.

Marijuana grow-ops have become all too common in  Niagara, but until
now they've been confined to single  family dwellings or townhouse

The grow-op discovered at Elizabeth High Towers at 378  Vine St. is
the first found within a multi-unit  high-rise building, said Staff
Sgt. George Ravenek,  head of the police intelligence unit, which
includes  the "guns, gangs and grow" unit established last fall.

As chronicled in Niagara This Week's recent 'Bad Seed'  series,
grow-ops pose dire electrical, chemical and  fire hazards because the
operations typically involve  dangerous pesticides, high-intensity
lights and  haphazard wiring and hydro bypasses because they  require
so much electricity.

The Vine Street operation was no different. Executing a  search
warrant Friday, police found two rooms with 171  young marijuana
plants which had a potential street  value of $171,000. They also
found pesticides in large  vats and electrical wires crudely hooked up
to the  outlet normally used for a stove.

Ravenek said the wires were snaked across the floor of  the apartment
to the bedrooms, meaning anyone walking  in could have been at risk of
being shocked.

St. Catharines is already grappling with trying to find  homes for 35
families left homeless after a recent fire  at an apartment building
on Roehampton Drive. Ravenek  said if the grow-op had caused a serious
fire at the  eight-storey Vine Street building, with more than 100
units, many, many more families could have been left  homeless.

"There definitely was a risk of fire in that  apartment," he

Police were tipped off about the grow-op when workers  entered the
apartment as part of ongoing replacement of  toilets and showerheads.
A notice posted inside the  building's front entrance informed tenants
the work  would be carried out between Sept. 11 and 21.

As officers arrived Thursday night, two men arrived who  were believed
to be renting the fourth-floor apartment  where the grow-op was
discovered. A "scuffle" ensued  with police, and one officer suffered
a separated  shoulder, said Ravenek.

The two men, from Hamilton and Binbrook, were arrested  and charged
with production of a controlled drug.  Ravenek said it's not believed
the two men lived in the  apartment, which had sophisticated watering
equipment,  fans and lights all controlled by timers.

"It was basically a marijuana factory," he said.

Ravenek said the apartment's windows were covered in  black plastic so
passersby couldn't see the brilliant  lights inside.

"You can't tell me somebody in this building didn't  know about this,"
he said.

Two tenants leaving the building as police loaded up  confiscated
equipment and marijuana plants said they  had no idea the operation

One woman, who did not want to be identified, lived  across from the
apartment with the grow-op. The  recently widowed woman heard the
fight between police  and the suspects.

"I heard yelling: the guy said, 'Get down, I'm a  policeman.' It
scared the heck out of me. I thought,  did they find a body?"

Another woman who would only give her first name as  Barb said the
building is a safe place to live.

"I've lived here 27 years and we've never had a  problem. I wouldn't
be here so long if I didn't feel  safe."

Ravenek said the city and the local hydro utility have  the authority
to order the building's owner to carry  out remediation work to ensure
any health threats from  the grow-op are eliminated. He said that
could include  such things as mould or pesticide residue in the
building's air ducts, because the grow-op had been set  up to vent
into the kitchen and bathroom vents,  contamination of drywall or
damage to the apartment's  wiring.

Grow-ops have become a multimillion-dollar industry in  Niagara, with
police now busting them at a rate of  about one a week. Niagara police
said in a news release  they want to remind the public of the dangers
of  grow-ops and to help them in identifying potential  grow-ops by
reporting suspicious activity to police or  by calling Crime Stoppers.
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