A private parcel off Bristol Road near White Salmon may soon become the site of a county shooting range.
A proposal to locate a "firearms range to provide training for all commissioned law enforcement officers employed by Klickitat County" has been given a "mitigated determination of non-significance" (MDNS) by the Klickitat County Planning Department.
The applicant on the proposal is the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office. The 598-acre parcel where the firearms training would take place is owned by SDS Lumber Co., and the property is classified as forest land.
The firing range would not be open for public use.
In recent years, the Sheriff's Department has been using the Mt. Adams Fish & Game Club range along Jewett Creek in White Salmon.
"The site we're using at Jewett Creek is not big enough and we worry about it," said Sheriff Chris Mace. "There's a hiking trail that runs behind it, and it's not set up for tactical exercises, like running through buildings and running for cover, the kind of things we like our staff to go through. It has been very nice of them to let us shoot down there, but it's not set up for law enforcement firearms training. And we do night shooting now as part of the firearms qualification. We do that once a year."
Mace said between 35-40 officers would go through the course at different times during a year. Usually, four or five officers go through the training at one time, with the sessions stretching over a two- or three-day period.
"We would use the site one or two or three days at a time, several times a year," he said. "This would enhance an officer's ability to handle firearms, and that's always a good thing."
In the project description submitted by KCSO, the proposal calls for a rifle range 300 yards deep and 50 feet wide. A 12-lane pistol range would also be included. Its dimensions are 75 feet wide and 35 yards deep.
Mace said the site they would use is near the center of the SDS parcel, and probably about half a mile from the nearest residence.
"We think it's pretty safe and it's pretty isolated up there," he said.
In the Planning Department's memorandum on the project, safety is one of the issues highlighted. The county would require the following conditions to address safety concerns:
"The following mitigation measures are to ensure that safety and security concerns are addressed to reduce potential impacts," read an excerpt. "An emergency response plan shall be submitted; the site shall have adequate security measures to ensure limited access ... a locked gate will be used and fencing, signage, and other means should be used to limit public access; a 10-foot vegetative-free zone shall be required around all shooting and parking areas."
In an effort to keep the sound of gunfire down, the county is requiring that a berm be built around areas where shooting will take place.
"A six-foot berm is to be constructed at the side and end of the shooting areas to reduce the amount of noise that will leave the site," read the condition listed under "land use compatibility."
With the deadline for public comments and/or appeals on the MDNS virtually past -- the Planning Department set a July 31 deadline -- some residents expressed anger at the lack of public notice.
"To begin with, we were not notified," said Cathy Myszkowski, a resident of adjacent Cooke Road. "If this was something I was considering, I would have to contact adjacent landowners. We were not provided the information. I see this too often in this county. Decisions are made, and the citizens are not taken into consideration."
Myszkowski added that the area near the shooting range is heavily used by recreationalists.
"We're in the Special Management Area, and there are tons of hikers and mountain bikers coming through. It's not necessarily that I'm against it, but we didn't hear about it and I don't have enough information," she explained. "It's close to a populated area. I realize it's hard to judge without all the facts, but it's definitely a concern. I don't want to hear guns going off all day."
Bristol Road resident Etta Hepner said she had not heard about the plan either.
"It could be three or four miles from my house, but I'd still like to be notified," Hepner said. "I wasn't aware of this at all."
Snowden Road resident Greg McGray pointed out that the county recently came down on him after a neighbor complained about his barking dog. He said he found it ironic that the county could then turn around and fast-track a proposed shooting range.
Although the deadline for comments on the MDNS is up as of July 31, the Planning Department will still accept written comments regarding the conditional use permit. The deadline for comments on the conditional use application is Aug. 21.
Sheriff Mace said that he would be glad to take comments or answer questions from the public regarding the proposal.
"Nothing has started yet," Mace explained. "If people are hearing about this late, they're more than welcome to call me or e-mail me with any concerns at all. I won't stop taking public comment, and we'll sure try to address everybody's concerns."
Sheriff Mace's telephone number is 773-4455; his e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck said he thought the Planning Department should have provided a timely legal notice about the proposal.
"It should have been in your newspaper [The Enterprise]," Struck said. "It's certainly something I would want to know about if it was happening in my neighborhood. I feel it should have been published. It is specific to that area."
Struck said he would contact Curt Dreyer, director of the Planning Department, and seek to extend the public comment deadline.
However, Dreyer declined to extend the July 31 deadline for comments on the MDNS.
"It is at the department head's discretion," Struck explained. "We tried to make it clear that a legal notice should be published in the newspaper it's most germane to."
Dreyer did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Struck added that he would try to make sure there were no more failures in the public notification process.
"I will take that up with Ray [Thayer] and Joan [Frey] on Monday [July 28], to make sure this doesn't have to happen in the future," he said.
A public hearing on the shooting range proposal is planned for Sept. 2 at the County Courthouse in Goldendale. That hearing will be before the Klickitat County Board of Adjustment.
A time for the hearing has not yet been announced.