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Law enforcement gun range proposed in county

White Salmon Council lends support to plan

A proposed gun range in the Goldendale area may finally provide a permanent home for training of law enforcement agencies in the mid-Columbia Gorge region, including the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department.

The Goldendale Police Department is working on a plan that would create an efficient shooting range southwest of Goldendale.

The proposed 14-acre Goldendale site is in an abandoned settling pond adjacent to the city's wastewater treatment facility. The pond area drops about 17 feet below the surface level, making it extremely unlikely any rounds could leave the shooting range.

According to Rick McComas, assistant chief with the Goldendale Police Department, the design calls for berms made from baled tires. The baled tires would create interlocked, stacked berms that would separate different shooting areas and extend upward about 36 feet from the bottom of the site.

The tires would be supplied by Tire Shredders, Inc., owned by Ty Ross of Goldendale. Tire Shredders has a huge tire pile in Goldendale that is considered a potential fire hazard as well as a possible breeding area for mosquitoes.

"We're really excited about it," McComas said. "It eliminates two problems. It takes care of the tire pile, and we obtain a firing range available to all law enforcement agencies and available to the public."

The Klickitat County Sheriff's Office and the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department have been using the Mt. Adams Fish & Gun Club facility adjacent to Jewett Creek in White Salmon for firearm certification.

However, that use has sparked concerns from some members of the White Salmon City Council.

At the Aug. 4 meeting, council member Susan Benedict said she supported the Mt. Adams Gun Club, but opposed what she saw as the more intense use by law enforcement agencies.

"The gun club is for private members, but now the use has increased so much," said Benedict. "I'm not trying to make the gun club go away, I'm just trying to get law enforcement officers to go away. It's meant to be a family, private club, not for widespread use for semi-automatic or automatic weapons; it's too much of a risk in an area where kids fish. I don't want to see an incident happen. Professionals should not be at Jewett Creek. It's not a professional certification range."

Benedict endorsed the gun range under consideration in Goldendale, and called on the city of White Salmon to send a letter of support for the plan.

Mayor Jones said she thought the proposed letter would gain support.

"I think it sounds positive," Mayor Jones said. "It will be on the next City Council agenda (Aug. 18) for approval."

The firing range has co-existed with hikers, bikers, and kids fishing in the Jewett Creek area for decades. But pressures are building due to an increasing number of recreationalists using the area.

The land around the gun range is posted with signs warning about the potential danger, yet some bikers continue to use trails behind the area being fired into.

White Salmon City Council member Penny White Morris said she used to practice at the Jewett Creek range, but stopped due to some incidents that worried her.

"Every time I went there, a bicyclist would be yelling at me to `stop shooting, I'm going through!'" Morris explained.

Council member Richard Marx has proposed asking the county for landfill funds to upgrade and improve security at the White Salmon range to help prevent any accidents.

Marx, who uses the firing range, pointed out that the gun club has been in place for many years without any problems.

"It's been there for 60 years," Marx said. "Yes, it can be a hazard, but let's focus on the rights of those who use the gun club. It's been there long enough that people should know there's a gun club there. I don't want to lose my rights because of someone else."

White Salmon Mayor Linda Jones said she wanted to see more caution notices.

"Right now, our best alternative is to put signs up saying hikers and bikers can't come through," Jones said.

Maryann Stembridge, who oversees the gun club, pointed out that those who use the firing range are very responsible.

"Our members are pretty careful," she explained. "The range has been in use for over 60 years. The FFA has used the trap shooting facilities for over 20 years. It's also been used by the Boy Scouts to earn their shooting merit badges, and for a women's pistol class. In the 1970s, a nine-week class was taught as a credit for classes at Columbia High School. Hunter education classes have been taught for probably 50 years."

Stembridge and many other local residents have served as instructors for those classes.

Stembridge added that law enforcement personnel have been using the range over the years an average of about once every six weeks.

According to Stembridge, bicyclists or hikers occasionally trespass into areas that may conflict with use by gun club members.

"Most of the people who use the trails will come around the back and there's usually no problem, but occasionally there are people who ignore the (warning) signs," she said.

McComas said the Goldendale facility was still "in the organizational stage."

"We're trying to ensure we have the support of surrounding residents and any agencies with jurisdiction in that area," he explained. "We spoke with several local residents, and they are receptive to the idea. We (city of Goldendale) already own the land, so that's a big plus."

McComas said he has met with the Klickitat County Commissioners, the Klickitat County Planning Department, and several state agencies. So far, everyone has been supportive of the plan.

McComas said KCSO, the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department, the Washington State Patrol, and Gilliam and Sherman counties in Oregon had expressed interest in using the facility to train officers.

The agencies would pay a fee to use the site.

"It really looks positive," he said.

According to McComas, it would take approximately a year to prepare the new site, barring any snags.


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