Forest Service to get the lead out of former Index shooting range

INDEX — The U.S. Forest Service is getting ready to clean up soil that has been contaminated by lead at the former Index Sportsman Club shooting range.

The range is located in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest about half a mile west of Index.

The clean-up is focused on 2 acres of the 7-acre property, the portion where shotgun pellets fell during trap shooting. Other areas of the range, where there was a clubhouse and ballfields, were not contaminated.

Lead in the soil “is the bad actor out there, and of course that lead comes from the shotgun pellets,” project coordinator Joseph Gibbens said. “It’s fairly straightforward. We’re just going to dig the material up and haul it out.”

That work could start as soon as this fall and is expected to take less than a month. The plan is to clear brush and young trees, remove contaminated soil and take the waste to a disposal area in Seattle or Wenatchee.

Engineers estimate the project would cost about $780,000. A more detailed cost calculation is in the works and hopefully will drop that price, Gibbens said. One of the most expensive parts of the project is transporting the soil and debris after it’s removed from the range.

The bulk of the cost is expected to be covered by insurance policies the gun club had on the property. Anything that isn’t covered would be paid for by the forest service, Gibbens said.

The Index Shooting Range opened in 1947 and had special use permits until 1987. After the last one expired, the range continued to operate without a permit until the forest service closed it down in 2004.

Shooting ranges are allowed on forest service land but only with permission. In Index, a community of less-than 200 people, officials were concerned about lead contamination and the risk to people who regularly visited the shooting range, according to planning documents.

Between 2004 and 2009, the sportsman club fought to renew the permit for the range, “but the environmental and safety requirements for operating a range were too cumbersome,” Gibbens said.

In 2009, the forest service decided the club could reopen a shooting range if they hired an environmental engineering firm to monitor lead levels in the soil and water and cleaned up the range if needed, among other conditions. People in the club saw it as being forced off the property because the conditions were too expensive for the group. The club had more than 100 members in the years before it closed.

After the clean-up, the property should be safe for unrestricted use, Gibbens said. There’s been talk of creating a campground or some other kind of outdoor destination. The Skykomish Ranger District is tasked with deciding on any future uses of the property.

“It’s a very nice parcel,” Gibbens said. “It’s right across the road from the river, you can see the big climbing wall. I’m sure there will be some interest in it.”

The property is to be closed during clean-up. For now, people can park near the site, which is gated off, and walk on, Gibbens said.

“Lead has its own issues and this is a very accessible site,” he said. “Our primary concern is human health, especially consumption and ingestion if people are out there. It’s especially kids if they’re playing in the soil.”

Lead is a naturally occurring element that is toxic if consumed by humans and animals.

A 2015 report including the cost estimate and other alternatives to the project was published in March. The forest service is taking public comments until April 19. They can be emailed to Gibbens at jfgibbens@fs.fed.us or mailed to PO Box 305, Skykomish, WA 98288.

The clean-up falls under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act — the same federal regulations that formed the basis of the recently completed clean-up at the Monte Cristo ghost town on the Mountain Loop Highway.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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