LYNDEN, WASH. -- U.S. officials began destruction yesterday of a tunnel that they say a criminal organization thought would be a "gold mine" in the smuggling of drugs from British Columbia to Washington State.
A backhoe cut through the roadway above the tunnel near the Lynden border crossing, south of Vancouver, where concrete barriers will be placed, then buried with gravel. A concrete-like mixture will fill the rest of the tunnel, which ends under a Lynden home.
"It should demonstrate to others that might think of doing the same that we'll find out about it, like we did in this case, beforehand, and we will make sure we shut it down," said Rodney Benson, special agent in charge of the Seattle Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"This tunnel will be filled with concrete and will never be used again."
Mr. Benson said those arrested when the DEA raided the operation last month were shocked when authorities moved in.
"This was going to be their gold mine," he said, "Their intention was to move thousands and thousands of pounds of narcotics through that tunnel."
Five people, including three men from Surrey, B.C., have been charged in the United States with drug and smuggling offences, and face minimum sentences of 10 years in prison.
Mr. Benson said more arrests are expected.
The first covert tunnel ever discovered between Canada and the United States was shut down in July by police from both sides of the border after authorities monitored its construction.
The 110-metre tunnel stretched between a metal hut in Langley, B.C., and a point underneath the living room of the house in Lynden, where police had installed cameras and microphones.
An engineer for the city of Langley was impressed with the tunnel's construction.
"The tunnel is surprisingly well built, for a bunch of amateurs," said Clive Roberts, manager of design and construction in Langley's engineering department.
Next week, engineers on the Canadian side of the tunnel will close it as they would an old mining shaft, by drilling holes in to the tunnel and pumping in a mix similar to concrete.
RCMP Inspector Al Mullin, who watched the backhoe dig down to the tunnel, said a lot of planning went into its construction.
"There was a significant amount of investment, financially . . . buying property on both sides of the border," he said.
U.S. authorities say a process is under way to seize the house in Lynden where the tunnel ended.
Anna Banks, who is a neighbour to the property on the Canadian side of the border, said she was shocked when the discovery was announced.
"I never thought anybody would do it, because there's border patrol here all the time," she said.
The structure was so sophisticated that it was equipped with electricity, ventilation and sump pumps to ensure water did not gather. The builders had also installed a small cart to allow them to move freight or people from one end to the other.
The U.S. Justice Department said 42 kilograms of pot were transported through the tunnel and then loaded into a van last month.
Someone then drove the van to a shopping mall in Bellingham, Wash., where the marijuana was loaded into another vehicle. The pot was seized after the second vehicle was stopped by the Washington State Patrol.