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Neighbors fight plan for gun range near Sultan

Some people who live near the site of the proposed range oppose it and plan to say so at a public meeting.

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By Noah Haglund
Herald Writer
SULTAN — Earl Calkins said he grew up around firearms and frequents shooting ranges.
So he’s not exactly against guns.
But Calkins is staunchly opposed to Snohomish County’s plan to build a public shooting range along Sultan Basin Road. The proposed site is about a mile from the Lake Bronson Club, where Calkins is the board president.
“Five or six days a week, I have a gun on my hip,” he said. “I grew up with it. But there are a lot better places for a gun range.”
Members of the Lake Bronson nudist group are just some of the neighbors mobilizing against a county plan to build a public gun range on 227 acres of state forestland.
Opponents of the county plan are preparing to speak at a Dec. 7 meeting in Olympia when the state Board of Natural Resources is scheduled to consider transferring the land to the county for the range.
The neighbors’ objections include the prospect of noise spoiling the outdoors for others, lead bullets contaminating local waterways, and taxpayer money paying for the project. They also doubt one of the main rationales for a public range: that it would cut down on dangerous, uncontrolled shooting along rural roads.
“Not everybody wants to go to a gun range,” said James Barlow, who lives in the area and has been a vocal opponent of the county’s idea. “That’s not going to eliminate the problem as they’re trying to portray (it).”
The parcel in question is part of the vast stands of abandoned timberland that counties deeded to the state early in the 20th century. It’s buffered by state forests, with the closest neighbors a mile or so away.
The state took over management of the lands, but sends money made off it back to counties, school districts and other local beneficiaries.
If a county requests trust land for a public park, they can get it back from the state. Snohomish County made a formal request for the Sultan Basin Road property in October.
The county would pay nothing for the real estate, only for legal costs associated with transferring ownership.
Generally, the board approves the transfer if it’s clear the county intends to use land for a park, DNR spokeswoman Jane Chavey said. It’s not up to the board to decide whether the park is a good idea.
“They’ll have to work those things out with the county,” she said of the neighbors’ concerns. “We have to respond to the county’s request. We encourage the public to work with the county.”
The board could make a decision on the day of the meeting, or request more time.
Getting the land is a first step. Afterward, there’s the question of paying for the range, designing it, and going through required environmental reviews.
The county has no money dedicated for the range. A six-year parks budget, however, calls for $650,000 to develop the project.
That figure is for planning purposes only, said County Councilman Dave Somers, who has championed the shooting range.
To that, Lake Bronson member Jodi Halfhill responds: “They can’t justify it, they can’t pay for it.”
Her husband, Bill Halfhill, believes the county is supporting target shooters at the expense of other groups.
“They’re taking it away from the mushroom pickers and the walkers and the bikers and the equestrians,” he said.
The local chamber of commerce sees things differently. It supports the range as a potential tourist draw, saying there’s room in the area for all sorts of recreation.
“How many hiking trails does one hiker need, when there are zero (areas) addressing the needs of sports-shooting enthusiasts?” said Debbie Copple, Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce director. “We truly know we can do this thing in a really responsible, good, neighborly fashion.”
New technologies can help dampen shooting noise, Copple said.
Opponents remain skeptical of that, and also worry about lead from bullets seeping into the ground and polluting tributaries that feed the Sultan River.
The same fears about lead contamination are part of the reason Somers believes it’s better to concentrate shooting in one area; that way, it would be easier to collect spent ammunition and take other measures to protect the environment. That’s certainly better than the status quo, he believes.
“They’re shooting across creeks, they’re shooting at car batteries, automobile bodies, television sets,” Somers said. “It’s a mess and we’re really trying to get control of the situation by providing a safe, well-designed area where we can manage those impacts.”
Part of the problem is that so many outdoor shooting areas have been put off limits. One of the most popular was a gravel pit on 116th Street SE near Sultan Basin Road, which the County Council declared a no-shooting area early this year.
Everyone needs an outlet for all sorts of outdoor activities, whether it’s hiking, driving off-road vehicles or shooting firearms, Somers said.
“You can’t just say no,” he said. “We’ve been saying no for a number of years and people have been going out there and doing it anyway.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465,

The state Board of Natural Resources is scheduled on Dec. 7 to consider transferring land along Sultan Basin Road to Snohomish County for use as a future gun range. It’s part of a meeting scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the Natural Resources building, room 172, 1111 Washington St. SE, Olympia.
Story tags » SultanSnohomish County governmentTourismHikingHunting

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