Old explosives found outside Rainier

by: Arwen Ungar Explosives found on Nicolai Cutoff Road were described as about two feet long and white.

It's not every day that the explosives are discovered in Columbia County. But then again it's not as uncommon an experience as area residents may think.

Last Wednesday, the Oregon State Police bomb squad was called out to Nicolai Cutoff Road in Rainier near Highway 30 after C.T. Brownlow, a worker on a Columbia County Road Department project, saw something which looked like explosives in a ditch at a site the crew was cleaning up.

'It must've been buried in the ditch,' Brownlow said. 'It looked like a stick of pepperoni.'

No one can agree exactly how the explosives showed up in that ditch. But everyone has ideas.

Members of the road crew heard there used to be an explosives factory in the area that flooded in 1996 and littered explosives throughout the county. Officials speculated that explosives had been buried in the area for unknown reasons. Others postulated that laissez-faire attitudes of road crews of yore enabled the occasional stick of dynamite or piece of explosive to be left behind.

Howard Greer, a detective with the Oregon State Explosives Unit, said explosives buried in the area in the 1970s could be the cause.

'My understanding is a substantially large amount of explosives was buried in the area,' Greer said. 'It's something on the order of a couple of hundred pounds.'

Greer did not speculate about who had buried the explosives or why they had been buried but said unearthing explosives has been a common occurrence.

The squad was able to destroy what Greer referred to as emulsion explosives without detonation at the site. He declined to say exactly how the squad destroyed the explosives. Emulsions explosives contain ammonia nitrate mixed with other chemicals.

Greer said the type of explosives is 'very insensitive' and becomes inert with age.

'There's very, very, very little danger,' he said.

Buried explosives wasn't the only hypothesis Greer proposed.

'A couple of decades ago, the restrictions were quite a bit looser,' Greer said. 'Sometimes people would lose track of explosives or for whatever reason they get misplaced.'

Columbia County Undersheriff Andy Moyer also cited road crews as potential culprits for lost explosives.

'My understanding is that they used to store [explosives] in the area years and years ago,' Moyer said. 'I am of the understanding that it's not dangerous and they just burned it at the site.'

Glen Crinklaw, Columbia County's assistant public works director, said he was unaware of any explosives being buried in the area.

Although Moyer said dynamite has often been found in the area it's not something that happens all the time.

'It has happened before,' Moyer said. 'It's not like something we go to every week or every month.'

This is the first incidence in 2011 that Moyer recalls.