Basalt council stuck in middle of cross hairs of shooting range debate | AspenTimes.com

Basalt council stuck in middle of cross hairs of shooting range debate

The debate over the fate of the Basalt shooting range opened with a spirited but very civil opening round at the Basalt Town Council meeting Tuesday night.

There was no formal agenda item but about 40 people showed up to try to get the council aboard one side or the other. The audience was roughly split between people who want the shooting range closed until it is relocated away from town and those who claim the range is a valuable asset that keeps shooters from practicing on local public lands.

The Lake Christine Fire broke out at the shooting range July 3 when two people were allegedly firing tracer ammunition, which is always prohibited at the facility. The fire destroyed three houses, threatened hundreds more, forced thousands of people to evacuate for various amounts of time and has wreaked economic and environmental damage that is yet to be fully determined.

"We nearly lost everything that's important to us," said Stacey Craft, an outspoken advocate for relocating the shooting range away from Basalt.

A more combative tone was taken by longtime Basalt resident Michael Kerr, who said CPW has shown no respect for Basalt. It's not the town's responsibility try to work with the state agency on a solution to the gun range, he said. The council needs to take a tough stance to get rid of the range, he said.

Ann Walker, a resident of Two Rivers Road, said her family's property abuts the Basalt State Wildlife Area, where the shooting range is located, and they were among the first ordered to evacuate.

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Nevertheless, she feels the range is a valuable asset because it allows hunters to safety get their sights dialed in and provides a safe environment for people to learn to shoot. A 4-H Club she works with had been scheduled to use the range July 3, but the session was canceled. She said had they been there, the fire might have been avoided. Peer policing plays a big role at the facility.

Members of the Roaring Fork Valley Sportsmen's Association said their group's use of the skeet range could serve as a model for how to operate the rifle and pistol range. The skeet range only operates when a range officer is present, they noted.

CPW doesn't regularly staff the shooting range. The agency is reviewing the fire and its management practices (see related story).

Michael Luciano, a longtime opponent of the gun range, was one of several speakers who said the council must step up for residents who want the facility moved. If not, "it's going to get pretty heated," he said.

The council avoided the fray and didn't take any action. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said she has been in touch with CPW officials and has been assured that town officials will be included in the decision-making and that meetings will be held for the public to weigh in.

"The town will be at the table representing you in a big way, all of you," she said.

scondon@aspentimes.com