On Oct. 16, Hollister city employees hurriedly erected a chain linked fence to close Jerry Gabe Dog Park near the airport for an indefinite period because workers stumbled across a live WWII-era bomb—more than five weeks ago.
As city workers were digging a trench Sept. 7 for a fiber optic cable to the new fire station located at the Hollister Municipal Airport, they accidentally uncovered the practice bomb. The question of whether there are more munitions buried under the dog park remains unanswered.
Airport manager Mike Chambless announced the find at the Oct. 1 Hollister City Council meeting. He told the council the more than 70-year-old bomb was still live and the Monterey County Sheriff’s Bomb Squad had disarmed it at the airport Sept. 10. Chambless requested $7,000 from the city council for a ground-penetrating radar survey in order to scan the entire area of the dog park.
“It was live and we detonated it,” he said. “Out of an abundance of caution, I got the City Council to authorize the money to pay for ground-penetrating radar survey. The results were two anomalies. We don’t know what they are, but they are very deep and very big. They’re too big to be bombs. I think they are buried [fuel] tanks. I asked the Army Corps of Engineers if they wanted us to dig and find munitions and then call them, or did they want to come out and dig?”
Chambless said when the workers uncovered the bomb they knew what it was and called their supervisors.
“The supervisors decided, based upon their experience with the military, that it was not live and took it back to the office in their truck,” he said, adding that he was surprised they decided to do that because they were not bomb experts. “When I found out about it, we got the right people out there and handled it the right way.”
Hollister Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo, who in addition to his experience as a firefighter was a weapons specialist during his days in the Marine Corps, shook his head in amazement at what the workers did.
“It was a lack of knowledge on their part,” he said. “I don’t think they understood it wasn’t a museum-grade sample. It was something left after WWII. The fire department is doing an aggressive push with literature promoting ‘if you see something, identify its location because you have no knowledge what it is.’ We’re going to look at it as unexploded ordnance and address it as such.”
Martin Del Campo said what the workers should have done when they discovered the bomb was to immediately stop working, flag it in order to mark the location, get a GPS coordinate if possible, get away from it and call 911.
“At that point, we would have cordoned off the area and called in the bomb squad,” he said. “It would then either be blown in place or removed and disposed of. Because this [airport] is an inoperative bomb site, it’s on the Corps of Engineers’ list and we notify them.”
Chambless, who spoke to BenitoLink by phone while attending a Florida trade show to bring new tenants to the airport, was reluctant to elaborate about the two large objects buried at the dog park because he did not feel it was necessary to close the facility.
“I’m going to have to close the dog park and that’s not good for the 100 or so people who come out there every day,” Chambless said. “I’d like not to say there are additional anomalies out there because I can just see some clown going out there trying to figure out what it is. Unfortunately, the ground-penetrating guys put a bunch of red spray paint on the ground [marking where the anomalies were located].”
Chambless said the bomb had been safely detonated and everyone at the airport was safe, which was remarkable when he recounted that the detonation was conducted near the airport fuel trucks. Using a shape-charge explosive, he said the internal material exploded, leaving the lead bomb casing intact. The defused bomb now sits in a display case at the airport.
Chambless said because a large capital improvement project to install new irrigation and wire mesh to prevent gophers at the dog park was already scheduled for next year, there would be a need to excavate down at least two feet, so the two anomalies would eventually have to be dealt with.
Hollister City Manager Bill Avera said even if the anomalies prove not to be explosives, he is just as concerned if they turn out to be some sort of fuel tanks.
“Then we’ll have some kind of hazardous cleanup we have to do,” he said.
Asked if the city would have to disclose to current or future tenants the possibility that there are either explosives or toxins at the airport, Avera said he did not know.
“A lot of times if you find something you go out and abate it and then wait until you find something else,” Avera said. “We just abate when we can. I don’t think we’ve ever disclosed potential hazardous materials.”