Marianne LaBarge wants to stop Willard’s detonations
JERREY ROBERTS Marianne LaBarge, Ward 6 Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — Two days after a state bomb squad detonated a large firecracker at a gravel pit off Ryan Road, Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne L. LaBarge is calling for an end to the practice in her ward.
“To me, something like this should not be occurring. ... It doesn’t belong at that site,” LaBarge said.
At the least, the councilor would like advanced warning the next time such an incident occurs.
It was the second time in nine months that the State Police Bomb Squad used the Bill Willard Inc. quarry at 1010 Ryan Road to dispose of dangerous materials. The squad last June detonated explosives removed from a vacant Springfield home. That incident led to three separate blasts, compared to one explosion on Saturday.
Saturday’s incident occurred about 2 p.m. at Look Park when a person found a “baseball-sized” unexploded firework, most likely from last summer’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration.
The firecracker was discovered shortly after 3,000 people had attended an Easter egg hunt at the park, and the incident closed the park for about an hour.
The bomb squad was called in to take the item, which Police Chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz stated in a Monday email to several councilors was similar to an M-100 firework.
The explosive was transported in a sand-filled Department of Public Works truck to the Willard pit. Bomb squad officials said Sunday the firework was likely part of a “bad batch” of fireworks that were launched but never exploded last summer.
LaBarge, who was in her backyard when the explosion happened around 4 p.m., said the “awful” noise shook her house.
Ruth McGrath, who lives at 52 Longview Drive, was cooking Easter dinner when the explosion shook her house.
“It wasn’t a huge shake, but it was like a transformer in my frontyard,” McGrath said. “We all jumped and everybody stopped.”
McGrath isn’t sure how the city would warn residents in advance but she said that even some information after the fact would be helpful.
LaBarge said she received calls from residents throughout her ward concerned about the explosion and frustrated that they were not told about it in advance. She fired off emails to Mayor David J. Narkewicz and the police and fire chiefs demanding a meeting and calling for a plan to be put in place to shut down such explosions at the gravel pit.
It’s unclear whether that’s possible given that the site is not a municipal facility, Narkewicz said.
The mayor said he was told about Saturday’s incident after the fact. He cautioned that “events were fluid” that afternoon as emergency officials dealt with a potential public safety issue.
“Our ability to notify while the situation was happening, I’m not sure the feasibility of that,” Narkewicz said. “We might have been able to do it after the fact. I want to take a look at that and discuss it.”
The mayor said there was a big difference between last summer’s incident, in which materials were transported into the city from Springfield for planned detonation, and Saturday, when the firecracker was unexpectedly found within the city limits and in a busy park.
“The decisions made were made in that context,” he said.
Narkewicz said city officials made clear they did not want the bomb squad to bring ordnance into city from elsewhere, which has not happened since.
In his email, Sienkiewicz said he was not aware of what the bomb squad would do with the firecracker.
“At the time I had no idea this single firework would be rendered safe by attaching a blasting cap and detonating it, as decided by the bomb tech,” Sienkiewicz wrote.
Resident John Celentano questioned why the city’s reverse 911 system can’t be used when there are detonations at the gravel pit
“The explosion on Saturday was felt in several surrounding wards, shaking homes and causing undue panic and concern,” Celentano wrote in an email.
LaBarge has similar questions, though she notes that many residents in her ward no longer participate in the reverse 911 system because of the number of calls they receive that aren’t relevant to their lives.
LaBarge said Monday that using the gravel pit to detonate materials may have been OK years ago when the area was less populated, but many homes have been developed in that section of the city over the years and the practice must stop.
“Do I agree with this? I do not,” LaBarge said. “A long time ago, maybe, but there are subdivisions all over now.”