BREMERTON — The Navy this week blew up World War II munitions lost during the war in Ostrich Bay.
Jackson Park Housing Complex, now called The Landings, and Naval Hospital Bremerton sit on a 206-acre hillside bordering the bay that housed an ammunition depot from 1904 to 1959. For more than two decades, the Navy, in concert with the EPA, has been cleaning up harmful things left behind after the facility closed.
On Thursday, it exploded 60-year-old Mark 13 fuzes from anti-aircraft shells. Fuzes went inside shells and detonated when they neared a target, triggering the round to explode into a plane.
Cases of more than 400 fuzes were pulled last summer from Ostrich Bay during a yearlong search of the subtidal zone, an area submerged most of the time, said Ray Kobeski, Naval Facilities Engineering Command's lead remedial project manager for Jackson Park.
The work followed three years of looking in the intertidal zone, the area that's above water at low tide and under water at high tide.
A magnetometer was skimmed through the water to detect metal. Divers checked 1,185 "anomalies," and uncovered explosives in 22 locations. Besides fuzes, they brought up 5-inch-diameter projectiles, 40 mm and 20 mm projectiles and small arms bullets from around where ships would moor. The munitions were stored in a bunker on Elwood Point until this week. Also corralled while they were down there was 3 tons of nonmilitary scrap metal such as motors, bicycles, chains and even a manhole cover, said Scot Wilson of Tetra Tech, a Navy contractor.
On Thursday, a backhoe carved a 4-foot-deep trench in the sandy soil between the ball field's right-field fence and the point. Forty-eight of the fuzes were sandwiched between layers of modern-day explosives. The fuzes, because they had been cut off and only used as tracers, contained just a half-ounce of explosives, less than what was being used to destroy them.
The trench was filled and three 2,500-pound "super sacks" of dirt placed on top to contain the blast.
Workers and guests moved about 400 feet away, on a hill overlooking the site. A five-minute warning was honked on a pickup's horn, then a one-minute toot. A switch was thrown on an orange plastic box — the remote firing device — sitting on the tailgate.
The explosion echoed across the landscape. Smoke and dust flew into space. A car alarm went off.
The Navy said those nearest the explosions might hear what sounds like a car backfiring. Cloud cover possibly doubled the volume, to about the level of fireworks, said Kobeski, who has been at Jackson Park for eight years and in his current position the past three.
The group has been setting off three blasts a day, about two hours apart, and should be finished by the end of the week.
Though remedial activities have been going on since the 1990s, this week's work is new.
"It's the first time in 30 years it's been done," Kobeski said. "The last time was during the hospital construction in '84."
Though the munitions were safe to handle, they couldn't be transported.
"The reason we're doing it here is when it comes down to the Department of Transportation and transporting hazardous materials, the state doesn't want it on the roads," Kobeski said. "This is the safest way to do it."
Elwood Point, which has been closed for years, should reopen in July. It features a picnic area, barbecue spot, fishing pier and is a popular destination for homecoming, birthday and graduation parties.
"It's a good opportunity to open up the site so residents can have access to it," Wilson said.
Uplands work is complete except for educating residents that they're living on a former ammo depot and in the unlikely event that they find a munition, here's what to do. The intertidal work has been completed. All that remains is 10 acres in the deeper water around the Navy pier, where Kobeski expects to find the same type of munitions. The removal plan is being reviewed by the EPA.