By TOM GIAMBRONI
LISBON - The Columbiana County Drug Task Force took to the sky Monday in a part of its annual aerial effort to find marijuana on the ground, with this year's efforts resulting in the seizure of 334 plants.
The focus this year was mostly in Middleton and Unity townships, with marijuana plants being found off Carter Road in Middleton Township and off Creek, McCloskey and Hisey roads in Unity Township.
"I was surprised. The plants were in very good condition," said DTF Director Dan Downard, who was expecting to find the plants in worse shape given the hot weather and semi-drought conditions of the past three months.
A helicopter and crew from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, along with a DTF agent to serve as a spotter, flew over the townships in search of marijuana. When suspected plants were found, the location was communicated to agents following along on the ground.
Also assisting was the county sheriff's office, highway patrol, FBI and federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
In some locations, the marijuana plants were found growing in cornfields, which is a common practice, while others were in hard-to-get-to wooded areas that required agents to bushwhack their way through heavy brush.
No man-made obstacles protecting the sites were encountered. Downard said in one location the marijuana plants appeared to have been watered recently, and they also found empty five-gallon buckets that appeared to have been used to haul fertilizer.
No arrests were made and charges are always possible, but Downard said often the marijuana is grown on someone's else property without the property owner's knowledge. He said that is normally the case with marijuana located in cornfields.
The number of seized plants is up considerably from recent years, with 90 plants found last year and 141 the year before.
"I don't know how much of a dent it makes because we got so much of it (marijuana) coming in from outside of the county," Downard said.
A mature plant produces $1,000 worth of marijuana, although most of these plants were not yet fully grown. "When you're talking about 334 plants, that's a lot of money taken out (of circulation), and money is what the drug trade is all about," he said.