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Deputies bust large pot-growing operation in Elk, Wash.

Abnormal electrical use on an Elk, Wash., property led to last week’s discovery of an elaborate marijuana grow operation from which authorities seized nearly 100 plants.

Spokane County Sheriff’s detectives could smell freshly harvested marijuana on Dec. 5 while standing outside near the 43000 block of Newport Highway, according to court documents.

The operation was obviously not producing marijuana for personal use, but rather was a money-making venture, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Craig Chamberlin said.

Authorities were tipped to the operation after Inland Power and Light crews became suspicious when they had to replace two blown transformers at the rural property in a single day. The substantial use of power had “literally melted the transformer units,” according to court documents.

Crews believed the power was being diverted before reaching the meter, skipping Inland Power’s billing radar.

During the investigation, crews used a backhoe to dig up an illegally installed power bypass system found about 12 feet away from the building on the property.

Indoor marijuana grows require large amounts of electrical power and growers sometimes use bypass systems to steal power while keeping their meters at a normal amount, investigators said in court documents.

“This job was uncommon to have someone actually hook into someone’s power source, let alone into a live line,” Chamberlin said, noting the procedure is very dangerous.

Investigators including members of the Spokane Regional Drug Task Force seized 99 marijuana plants from the property, which fit in 20 burlap sacks. About 40 grow lights and 40 electrical ballasts were located inside the shop building, with two rooms for the grow operation.

No arrests have been made in the operation, but authorities say a suspect is in custody on other charges. That person’s name is not being released while the investigation is under way.