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Secret Rooms Found Beneath Power Station

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two secret underground rooms that may have been used to grow marijuana have been found beneath a Department of Water and Power generating station, prompting an investigation into who built them and why, authorities said.

Acting on an informant’s tip, DWP investigators discovered the two 10-by-40-foot rooms--supplied with electricity, fresh water and a ventilation system--at the Scattergood Generating Station near El Segundo on March 1, DWP special agent Chuck Rubidoux said.

“We are uncertain what the actual use was for,” Rubidoux said. “We came across some material that could be . . . potting soil, but I’m not sure until we have it analyzed.”

DWP officials called in Los Angeles Police Department narcotics detectives shortly after discovering the rooms, Rubidoux said. Detectives said the rooms are similar to those of underground marijuana farms, but lack the agricultural equipment needed to grow plants.

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A concrete slab put in by DWP workers a year ago as a construction staging area serves as the eight-foot-thick ceiling for the rooms, which have 13-inch-thick concrete walls, Rubidoux said.

Investigators believe the rooms were built at the same time as the slab, in February or March of last year.

While officials said no workers have been suspended or reassigned in connection with the case, Rubidoux said the DWP has been interviewing “some individuals we believe may be responsible.”

He would not say whether those people are DWP employees.

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The entrance to the rooms was concealed beneath a cabinet built inside a large cargo container roughly 60 feet away, Rubidoux said. That cargo container was moved to the site last November.

Investigators also found evidence of an earlier concealed entrance inside a nearby storage shed, but that tunnel has been filled in.

When found, the earthen-floored rooms were nearly barren, officials said. Among the items inside were a fresh-air pump, an air conditioner, faucets, electrical outlets, a few bare light bulbs, one halogen lamp and a scattering of tools, including a power saw, a power drill and a screwdriver, officials said.

Carl Haafe, assistant division head for the Power Design and Construction Division, said DWP management is “extremely concerned” about the find.

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“We’re going to take every step necessary to get to the bottom of this,” Haafe said. “It’s very surprising, of course . . . that’s why we are really doing everything we can with an aggressive investigation to find out how this could happen.

“We have never seen anything like this before,” he said. “It caught us completely off guard.”

Haafe said the department “will pursue any avenue we possibly can for criminal prosecution.”

Estimates of the rooms’ construction costs have not yet been made, he said, and investigators have not yet determined whether the materials used to build them belonged to the DWP, Haafe said.

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Officials said they have not yet reviewed the plans and cost estimates that had been approved for the concrete slab that covers the rooms.

In recent years, there has been frequent construction activity in the area where the rooms were found, Haafe said. The concrete slab holds a number of storage bins and piles of sand and gravel used in various projects at the coastal generating station, which is on Vista del Mar between Imperial Highway and Grand Avenue.


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