GOLD BAR – Police recently uncovered a drug lab on a 200-acre wildlife preserve in the middle of the Skykomish River.
The cooks worked hard to conceal their operation, discovered miles from the houses which are usually home to methamphetamine labs.
The cooks rowed over meth-making materials in a makeshift raft and lugged them up a 10-foot embankment. They also cut down trees, split off cedar shakes and built a shack.
The labor-intensive lab left wildlife advocates and police shaking their heads.
“This is a first for us,” said Sgt. John Flood, a spokesman for the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force.
It also is a new problem for the Cascade Land Conservancy, which owns the property across from downtown Gold Bar.
The nonprofit organization, which aims to preserve wildlife habitats and open spaces, has never had a lab reported on its properties, said Pieter Bohen, the group’s stewardship director.
The Cascade Land Conservancy manages other properties throughout Puget Sound. It bought the island and other nearby timberland in Gold Bar about a year ago.
“We certainly didn’t buy it for it to become a meth lab,” Bohen said.
The lab was discovered earlier this month after nearby residents told Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies that they’d seen people trespassing on the island, Flood said.
Deputies borrowed a boat to cross the river and saw a man running from the shack. They chased him for about 300 yards before he hid behind a logjam.
“The guy’s dog led deputies right to him,” Flood said.
The Gold Bar man, 37, was arrested for investigation of manufacturing drugs. Police don’t think he was the only one using the island for drug production and are still looking for others.
Detectives made two other trips to the island to remove hazardous chemicals left behind from the operation.
The cleanup needed a steady hand.
“We had to get the chemicals across the river without spilling them,” Flood said.
The state Department of Ecology and the Snohomish County Health District also trekked out to the lab to determine what kind of damage had been done to the property.
As the property owner, Cascade Land Conservancy is on the hook for the cleanup costs.
The group had to hire a certified contractor to clean up the site. It could cost from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on the contamination, Bohen said.
There is some concern that the chemicals could have leaked into the river.
“It’s a stone’s throw from salmon-spawning areas,” Bohen said.
The shack will be torn down and any contaminated soil will be dug out and removed.
The group also will replant trees and intends to visit the property more often.
Most labs are found in rental houses, motor homes and even vehicles. The Snohomish County Health District oversaw the cleanup of one outdoor lab several years ago.
Reporter Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463 or email@example.com.