San Miguel Island

Matt Kettmann

San Miguel Island

Navy Closes San Miguel Island to Look for Old Bombs

Public Safety Concerns at Former Test Range Prompt Long-Term Operation

Monday, April 21, 2014
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Before hikers and campers can explore more of San Miguel Island — a windswept and craggy but picturesque strip of land off Santa Barbara’s coastline that was used as a bombing test range as recently as the 1970s — the U.S. Navy has closed it for the next year or so as it scours the terrain for any leftover weaponry.

The closure was prompted by a recent National Park Service proposal that the public be granted greater access to the 14-square-mile archipelago, the westernmost of California’s Channel Islands celebrated for its roosting seabirds, gathering pinnipeds, and alien landscape of caliche forest. Approximately 1,000 people visit San Miguel every year, with around 200 of them camping overnight, typically during the summer months.

The announcement was made last week and over the coming months, the Navy — which owns the island but leaves its management to the Park Service — will perform “risk assessment” to determine what areas pose a potential risk to wandering visitors. No unexploded bombs have been found on San Miguel since the 1980s, but suspicious pieces of metal have turned up, like when a Park Service employee spotted some this January and reported it to the military. The discovery turned out to be a false alarm.

As part of the assessment — it will require new funding and the hiring of an outside contractor, said Kimberly Gearhart out of Naval Base Ventura County — historic photographs and records will be examined to pinpoint where the bombing was concentrated, what kind of ordnance was used, and which type of clean-up strategies may work best. National Park service employees are being trained this week on what to look for as they walk existing trails, Gearhart explained, but an overall closure timeline hasn’t been determined.

Gearhart said San Miguel was peppered with ballistic bombs and missiles during and after WWII — no nuclear tests were conducted, she noted — and that while the Navy organized a cursory sweep in 1965 for any potentially dangerous debris, the site continued to be used and a comprehensive clean-up hasn’t taken place. San Miguel is part of the Ventura Navy Base’s 36,000-square-mile, offshore test range, which also includes San Nicholas Island and its operational “impact site” for non-explosive tests.

Explaining that the Navy is completely on board with the Park Service’s plan for expanded public access on San Miguel, Gearhart said the only way to make sure the moves happen safely and responsibly is to “go out there and see what’s going on. … This is the right thing to do.” Depending on what they find, Gearhart went on, the clean-ups may occur in phases or in specific areas, or both. Terrain will play a large factor in how things proceed, so crews will survey the scene by foot and from the air.

Right now, the majority of people visit San Miguel Island via approved charter boats that anchor at Cuylers Harbor. (Private boaters have to register with the Park Service.) Visitors are allowed to freely explore the mile-long beach at Cuylers and to hike up to the nearby ranger station and campground, but they must be escorted for the eight-mile trek to Point Bennet on the opposite side of the island. Under the Park Service’s proposal — introduced late last year as part of a larger plan to encourage public use of the Channel Islands, one of the country’s least-visited national parks — a spike camp would be established in a dry lake bed near Point Bennet, and visitors would be able to fly onto San Miguel’s small landing strip.

Admitting the Navy’s decision to close the island has been met with some serious grumblings, Gearhart assured that the move will prove worthwhile in the years to come. “There are some unhappy campers out there, but the key reason we did this is to keep people safe.” Yvonne Menard, spokesperson for the Channel Islands National Park, agreed with the call. “At the National Park Service we support the Navy in its quest to ensure public safety.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

It's amazing how shortsighted we (once?) were...thinking, 'Hey, how 'bout we just use that island out there to test these new bombs? What could it hurt, right?"

MesaJim (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 10:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Ya fortunately the military doesn't need to test bombs and stuff as much anymore, instead they focus most of their testing on neo-warfare scenarios within large populations like 9/11, Boston Bombing and Sandy Hook. Or they just plant one of those old bombs in a trash can and see what happens.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 12:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Fukishima, now this. And you still call Godzilla 2014 a coincedence Loon.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 1:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"With the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Lucky Dragon 5 incident still fresh in the Japanese consciousness, Godzilla was conceived as a metaphor for nuclear weapons." - wikipedia

So the original film "capitalized" on the fears that the Japanese had of nuclear weapons.

No doubt the 2014 version may "capitalize" on the new found fears that newer generations now have of nuclear technology.

"Although the monster is gone, those aboard ship mourn the unexpected loss of Serizawa. Godzilla's death has come at a terrible price and Dr. Yamane believes that if mankind continues to test nuclear weapons, another Godzilla may appear again one day." -wikipedia

I'm not sure what this has to do with conspiracies, it's not like the film is original or came out before Fukushima.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 1:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

They want you to think Godzilla is a metaphor. But what's really happening on San Miguel Island? A giant ape? I think not.
Connect the dots. All of the evidence you present says Godzilla is real and living on San Miguel Island. I bet you support the BLM now.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 2 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sea otter are the Godzilla of all of california, just look at Morro Bay, AS the Fish and Wildlife move sea otter down the the gold coast the Lobsters and other sea food will be eaten by Godziling Otters, the navy has them at San Nic island now, New Admiral = new rules. Look for the tags on Godziling otter's rear paws most are white tags older male moved from the main rafts.

SeaRomer (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 4:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sea Romer: I'll bet you wrote the following article:

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 8:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I don't understand the fear of otters deal. A long time ago, the before the Russians came to California and started hunting them, otters lived here in balance with all the other sea life. Not only were there otters, but there were clams, abalone, sea urchins, and all the other forms of sea life in abundance. The Russians decimated the sea otter population to provide hats and coats for rich Russians and then left. Now that the sea otters are finally recovering, why is that such a threat? Also, nobody is "moving the sea otters." They are moving themselves down the coast. I see lots of dolphins, leopard sharks, harbor seals, and sea lions out in the water, but I hardly ever see a sea otter. How could they be such a huge threat?

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 9:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

One man's menace is an otter man's friend.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 9:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

some should just turn the otter cheek.

Botany (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 9:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I clam up when I see some of the ridiculous comments.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 9:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I only blog for the halibut.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 22, 2014 at 10:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's the military. We are always told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We have no reason be worried about what's really going on or the real reason why this particular time has been chosen.

My name is godzilla, and i approve this message.

jazzifier (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2014 at 11:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Many sites across the US were used for bombing or artillery ranges long before anyone even thought about environmental issues or other long term consequences. We must recognize that point and just move forward.

If any range has enough unexplored ordnance to worry about, it is logical now to go in and clean it up. The cleanup effort also serves as training for military and civilian bomb disposal teams.

passagerider (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2014 at 1:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Maybe Hollywood's shipping their summer slate to San Miguel.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2014 at 2:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This comment thread is the funniest thing I've seen all day.

Burkey (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2014 at 6:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Bombed into perversion, haven't you people ever watched Japanese porn? All of a sudden the picture goes blurry right when the camera pans into the good parts lathering all over themselves. This can be connected directly to radiation poisoning of the vitreous humor.

70sbartender (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2014 at 9:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Maybe they'll find Pink Lady & Jeff

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 23, 2014 at 10:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Ioonpt. i started diving the channel islands 30 years ago and fears about sea otters decimating abalone lobster fish and scallops were rife then. i never once even saw a sea otter but saw constant over fishing by divers, sometimes two to three times the limit. and yet it is still possible for a diver to get a limit today, except for abalone which was almost devastated by humans

garmstrong (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2014 at 5:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

no need to go to the tropics for beautiful beaches and clear blue water. it's right here in california. only problem it's cold. but the best diving any where.

garmstrong (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2014 at 5:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Silly me. I started reading the comments in hope that I would find an interesting discourse on the actual subject matter of the article above.
What was I thinking?
Godzilla? Otters? Japanese porn?

I know that SB is famous for its import of empty-headed coeds, but I was truly disappointed by the lack of “real” commentary on this issue.

Is there a danger from unexploded rounds? Yes.
Is there a danger from metal remnants even in the absence of unexploded rounds? Yes.
Is the military finally doing something to clean it up? Yes.
Are there people complaining because they will have to change their vacation plans thanks to the thoughtless actions of the US Military –why didn't they think to check with all the campers and ask them if a clean-up would interfere with their summer plans?-- and grumbling about the Navy’s efforts to protect the hikers and campers who enjoy the surrounding splendor that is San Miguel Island?
Of course there are.

That, dear readers, might be a topic of conversation worthy of the intellect of SB residents.

Are there dangers to the local flora and fauna as a result of opening up San Miguel Island to people who might not be as cautious as they should be? Should the impact of human interference on the beach-dwelling life be considered before the island is opened up to the tromping hoards –the plight of the snowy plovers in Morro Bay for example might serve as evidence— and should the park service continue to limit access?

This, dear readers, might be another avenue of conversation to pursue.

But really?
How did clearing the island of dangerous materials before allowing the (notoriously unconscientious) public to run roughshod over it lead to commentary on Japanese porn or the inconsiderate otters and their need for lunch?

Valkyrie (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2014 at 6:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Looking for old bombs?.. just look through the trash cans of Solvang.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2014 at 7:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Too bad the Navy's not looking for scolds, they'd need only come here.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2014 at 7:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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