Navy closes San Miguel Island to public while risk assessment is done
By John Scheibe | Ventura County (Calif.) Star | Published: April 18, 2014
Navy officials said Thursday they are suspending public visits to San Miguel Island off the local coast due to safety concerns.
The Navy’s decision came after the National Park Service proposed expanding areas of the island accessible for public visits and overnight camping, said Kimberly Gearhart, a spokeswoman for the Navy at Point Mugu.
Gearhart said the Navy will conduct a risk assessment of the island during the closure, making sure it is safe to visit.
While the Navy owns the island, San Miguel is managed by the park agency.
The proposal to expand public areas of San Miguel is part of a plan developed for the management and preservation of Channel Islands National Park over the next 20 to 40 years. San Miguel is the westernmost island in the Channel Islands archipelago. Situated about 55 miles west of Ventura, it is 8 miles long and 4 miles wide.
The Navy used the island as a bombing test range from World War II until about the 1970s.
Among other things, the Navy will look for unexploded ordnance that may still be on the island, Gearhart said.
San Miguel has a current capacity for 30 overnight campers. It also has 14 miles of hiking trails and a ranger station with residences and a bunkhouse along with a research station. The island also has a ranch complex with a capacity for 75 daytime visitors. Among proposals by the National Park Service are ranger-guided hikes.
Many of those who visit the island do so in summer, Gearhart said.
Navy officials could not say exactly how long the island will be closed because they have yet to get funding for the risk assessment, something they hope will happen in the near future.
The assessment of potential dangers could look specifically at which areas would be opened to the public.
“Doing so would allow us to maybe narrow our focus a little bit,” rather than having to do an exhaustive search of the entire 9,376-acre island during the temporary closure, Gearhart said.
Naval Base Ventura County’s commander, Capt. Larry Vasquez, said the Navy “is dedicated to the conversation of our national resources, of which the Channel Islands are a unique and critical piece.”
Vasquez added that the safety of National Park Service personnel and others who visit San Miguel Island “are our highest concern.”
Gearhart emphasized that the decision to temporarily close San Miguel was in no way related to any injuries or other mishaps there.
In fact, no visitors to the island have been injured as a result of its past use as a bombing range, she said, although she added that some visitors occasionally have found scrap metal there that may have been left over from ordnance or other military-related equipment.
The announcement by the Navy came a day after military ordnance was discovered in Solvang. Authorities ordered the evacuation of those nearby while a bomb squad was called in to deactivate the device. Residents and others were allowed to return later.
Gearhart said the timing of the announcement of San Miguel’s closure was purely coincidental.
“It had nothing to do with what happened” in Solvang, she said.
San Miguel is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, including seabirds, seals and sea lions.
The island was first settled by humans an estimated 12,000 years ago.
The total number of visitors to the island has been estimated at fewer than 200 people per year. Visitors are taken there by boat.
Boats land at Cuylers Harbor, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful spots in the Channel Islands.