Sultan shooting range moves ahead but slowly

SULTAN — When Snohomish County secured forestland along Sultan Basin Road for a future firearms and archery range, it looked like a dream decades in the making would soon become reality.

More than a year and a half later, those plans have been slow to materialize, despite broad political support.

Some neighbors, meanwhile, continue to keep a wary eye on the project.

Backers say that there has been tangible progress behind the scenes since the county acquired the land in late 2010. That includes county staff searching for money in the 2013 budget. Supporters also have been working to set up a nonprofit group to help the county snag grants to pay for the project and eventually build it.

“We’re thinking October, November or December we’ll really get rolling on this project and we’ll know how much money the county has set aside for the shooting range in next year’s budget,” said Steve Slawson, a Sultan City Councilman and county employee who’s been one of the range’s most active backers.

The gun range’s supporters also hope to schedule public meetings this fall to learn more about what people would like to see at a county range, Slawson said.

The county has 150 acres for the shooting range, all of it timberland the state Department of Natural Resources reconveyed to the county for a future park.

The county’s plan all along has been to build a shooting range there. Less clear has been where the money would from come to pay for it.

Before starting any serious planning, the county needs to study wetlands and other environmental issues on the property. Snohomish County parks director Tom Teigen said he was hopeful that the county budget unveiled this fall will include money for those studies.

One hope is that a private group will take a lead role in building and operating the range. A request for proposals the county issued last year drew interest in the project, but failed to generate any formal plans, Teigen said.

Eventual plans are likely to include the gamut of Olympic shooting events, including firearms and archery, said Debbie Copple, director of the Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce.

A future survey should help identify some of the specific features people would like to see.

“I don’t want to know what would be cool, I want to know what you would pay to do,” Copple said.

The project’s costs, for now, remain unknown.

“I don’t think we can know until we know what we’re going to build,” said. “It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing.”

Some possible funding sources include a state grant intended to help build shooting ranges and promote training. It comes from a $3 fee on each concealed pistol license.

The program usually generates about $500,000 every two years. Any new applications would have to wait until the 2014 funding cycle, said Susan Zemek, a spokeswoman for the state Recreation and Conservation Office, which administers the grant.

A potential source of private grant dollars is the Snohomish County Friends of the NRA Committee. The group raises well over $200,000 every year for developing nonprofit shooting ranges and promoting sport shooting, committee chairman Steve Dazey said.

“The foundation does like to support responsible range development,” said Dazey, who also has been helping with the Sultan project.

Many neighbors of the proposed range, meanwhile, continue to worry about potential impacts from noise, pollution and traffic. Stray bullets are another concern.

In 2011, a nearby outdoor recreation club for nudists agreed to drop a lawsuit challenging state’s transfer of trust lands to the county. Even so, the group, Lake Bronson Associates, hasn’t lost interest in the project.

“We’re just waiting to see what the county does so we can respond,” club president Earl Calkins said. “We have made them aware that we’re watching every step of the way, and if this thing does get built, it goes through the proper process.”

Copple said she and others had been trying all along to do their best to address the neighbors’ concerns. Their goal is to create the best facility for everyone, even if it takes longer.

“This is going to be the one shot we have at doing this thing right,” she said. “It will impact the Sky Valley for generations, so I’d rather go slow than speedy-quick and regret it.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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