Basalt council majority wants to further restrict or close shooting range | AspenTimes.com

Basalt council majority wants to further restrict or close shooting range

Firefighters work at the Bsaalt shooting range the moring of July 4. There is strong sentiment in Basalt to close the range when fire restrictions are in place or close it altogether.

There's a movement budding on the Basalt Town Council to restrict, relocate or close the shooting range operated on the town's doorstep by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

In the Town Council's first meeting since the Lake Christine Fire broke out July 3, the majority of members spoke Tuesday night in favor of tougher restrictions, at the least, at the shooting range.

The fire started at about 6 p.m. July 3 when a man and woman were allegedly using tracer rounds illegally at the shooting range. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Richard Miller, 23, and Sarah Marcus, 22, both of the El Jebel area, for felony arson. They are cooperating with law enforcement officials and are expected to turn themselves in.

"This fire was started because of irresponsible and stupid use of arms at a firing range," said Councilman Bill Infante, who was among five council members forced to evacuate during the fire. "If the range was closed, this wouldn't have happened in this instance. So when Stage I and Stage II (fire restrictions) is declared, there should be an automatic protocol that is invoked."

Infante said adopting a closure during fire restrictions is probably just a short-term solution.

"I've heard from folks in our community who have asked me to petition and move towards a resolution to close the range indefinitely or permanently and/or relocate it to another venue outside of our community," Infante said. "I think we have to consider this very seriously. There is no reason towns have to tolerate activities that threaten their citizens."

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Stacey Craft is among the town residents pushing for a tougher stance on the shooting range. She urged the council Tuesday to make it a high priority to work with the state and other jurisdictions to relocate the shooting range away from Basalt's residences and downtown core.

"That gun range should never have been located where it is," Craft said. "It's like having a razor blade factory located next to a preschool or something. It's crazy."

She asked why Eagle and Pitkin counties' Stage II fire restrictions aren't aligned with those of the U.S. Forest Service. However, all jurisdictions are similar when it comes to use of firearms. They all allow legal use of firearms.

The White River National Forest Stage II restrictions prohibit exploding targets, tracers and incendiary devices, but a person could lawfully go into the forest surrounding Basalt today and discharge a firearm while using legal ammunition, confirmed Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. BLM spokesman David Boyd said BLM fire restrictions allow legal use of firearms.

Fitzpatrick said banning use of firearms on national forest would require a separate, complicated special order. It's rarely been used in Colorado, he said, except in some Front Range forests where people were killed by stray bullets coming into campgrounds.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials have maintained that legal use of the shooting range doesn't pose a safety risk during high fire danger. Nevertheless, Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the agency to review management practices at shooting ranges during fire restrictions. Colorado Parks and Wildlife closed all shooting ranges in the Northwest region after the Basalt fire broke out. The Basalt range is open to the public but not regularly staffed.

If the Basalt shooting range were closed during fire restrictions in the future, there's nothing to stop target shooters from going into the vast national forest or BLM holdings to shoot at targets, as rules stand now.

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said his previous stance has been the firing range existed before many current residents moved to Basalt so it should remain available for use. The fire changed his mind.

"I believe that we need to work with the state because I don't believe it was responsibly managed and that's what created this fire," Tennenbaum said. "We need to work with the state on finding responsible management of this range."

He added, "I hope to work with the state on this because I don't want to demonize them because they didn't cause this."

Tennenbaum likes the idea of relocating the shooting range away from Basalt, but questioned what community or neighborhood will accept it.

"I just want to work with them to prevent this from ever happening again," he said.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said public sentiment is strongly in favor of considering the shooting range's future.

"To a person that I've talked to, and a lot of them I didn't know, they said we've got to have a major discussion about the shooting range," Whitsitt said.

Perhaps more definitive action is needed than closing the shooting range during fire restrictions, she said.

While sentiment expressed in public in light of the fire might be in favor of shutting down the shooting range, there will be strong push back from gun handlers, based on public discussions in the past. Prior talks were spurred by opposition to the noise produced by use of the firing range. The last major public debate in 2010 spurred studies and alterations to reduce noise.

Councilman Auden Schendler acknowledged Wednesday that the shooting range serves an important purpose and constituency in the midvalley.

"They're us," he said of range users. "I don't see this as a big fight. I think it's something we need to accommodate."

He is optimistic that everyone will agree that the shooting range should close when fire restrictions are in place — even if target shooters could just move to the national forest and BLM lands.

"Do you really want it open (during fire restrictions) given what just occurred?" he asked.

A small fire also broke out at the Basalt shooting range during the dry summer of 2012. It was snuffed before it could spread. The investigation looked into the possible use of incendiary targets and the careless toss of a cigarette as the cause. No conclusion was reached.

At Tuesday's meeting, Schendler said he doesn't buy the argument that the fire was a fluke caused by somebody's illegal behavior and doesn't require changes in management of the shooting range.

"The point of public policy is to control stupidity," Schendler said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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