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Bombs Cleared From Bike Path

Army engineers found 12 ordnance-related items. Decision on when to clear rest of O'Neill Regional Park will be made within 2 months.

June 05, 2004|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has finished removing old artillery rounds from a section of O'Neill Regional Park in southern Orange County, and within two months will decide when to begin clearing the rest of the park.

During a two-week project that ended last week, technicians found 12 ordnance-related items along a 22-foot-wide corridor being planned as a bike path. None of the munitions discovered in the search area of 1 2/3 acres was live. Of the items uncovered, nine were three-pound practice bombs, one was a 25-pound practice bomb, and two were rockets.

The sweep for unexploded ordnance at the former U.S. Navy Plano Trabuco bombing range had been scheduled for 2023, but the search was moved up with the September discovery of 11 small bombs under a foot of soil as workers were laying asphalt. Three of the bombs were live and were detonated by the Orange County Sheriff's Department bomb squad.

Army Corps officials said it is unclear whether that timetable will change because of the findings over the last two weeks. The Corps of Engineers, which focuses on cleaning the most dangerous former military sites, gave the former Plano Trabuco bombing range the second-highest of five priority levels.

"I think right now we could go either way," project manager Larry Sievers said. "We're just waiting for the experts from our ordnance and explosive center to weigh in."

If the experts determine that the site should be given a higher priority, Sievers said, cleanup for the entire park could begin in two to three years. Jim Thor, a Rancho Santa Margarita councilman, said he is not calling for the rest of the park to be cleaned.

"I'd like to make sure we address the issues and that there are no potential problems out there lurking, but I don't want to go overboard," Thor said. "I wouldn't want to spend the money willy-nilly to clean the place unless there was some merit. I have thorough confidence in the Army Corps folks making the decisions."

Before digging began May 18, fliers were sent to homes in the Rancho Santa Margarita neighborhood explaining the project. A sign warned bikers and joggers to avoid the area.

Corps officials said digging was supposed to take about three weeks, but fewer potential sites were identified than expected, and no bombs had to be detonated. Sievers said the final cost of the project will come in less than the originally anticipated $270,000.

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