Meeting majority wants Basalt gun range reopened as soon as possible | AspenTimes.com

Meeting majority wants Basalt gun range reopened as soon as possible

A strong majority of people attending a meeting on the Basalt shooting range last night supported appointing range safety officers and making improvements to ease noise and fire risk so the facility can open as soon as possible.

Between 300 and 400 people attended the meeting hosted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife at Basalt High School. It became apparent early on from audience reaction that the majority believes the range should remain at its current location at the Basalt State Wildlife Area. But it was equally apparent that most of the range supporters realize management practices must be changed.

"Increase the berm (at the ranges)," said Jimmy Hunter, a resident of south Basalt Mountain who said he is a certified firearms instructor and range safety officer. That would remove the fire risk even if people were illegally using tracer ammunition or incendiary targets, which are prohibited at the facility.

Hunter said CPW must also get paid or volunteer safety range officers in place upon reopening.

The shooting range has been closed since the Lake Christine Fire broke out there July 3. Two Roaring Fork Valley residents are facing felony arson charges for allegedly firing tracer rounds and igniting the blaze. The fire destroyed three homes, charred 12,588 acres and caused untold amounts of inconvenience and economic loss for midvalley residents and businesses.

The fire was a "tragic event" that "left this community in chaos," said JT Romatzke, Northwest Regional Manager for CPW.

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"I want you to know, absolutely, this situation isn't lost on me," he said.

Romatzke said the CPW will use this public meeting and another Monday to collect public input, then ponder options to eventually decide the future of the facility. Perry Will, area wildlife manager for CPW, said it is safe to say it won't reopen under the old management rules.

Romatzke told audience members he couldn't set a deadline on when a decision will be made. The state agency, which owns the shooting range, wants to make a decision that's best for Basalt residents and sportsmen all over the state, he said.

"This is a very polarizing issue, without question," he said.

The meeting was deliberate and civil, with only a handful of tense times between audience members with different views.

A group called Midvalley Residents circulated a petition signed by hundreds of people between Basalt and Cerise Ranch who want the facility closed and relocated.

"This is a very intimidating topic," said Michael Luciano of Basalt, who was also part of a community effort in 2010 to reduce the noise emanating from the shooting range. He said many people who want the range closed, relocated or both were too intimidated to show up at the meeting.

"We really do represent the silent majority of people who live here and put up with that," he said.

Basalt resident Cindy Kerr, another organizer of Midvalley Residents, spoke in favor of enclosing or moving the range. She said more input was needed specifically from Basalt residents, who must endure daily impacts of the facility.

"A lot of you don't live in Basalt and live with these consequences," Kerr said while she looked around the crowd.

But numerous speakers urged CPW to make the management adjustments and get the range back online, preferably prior to big game hunting season. If people don't have a safe place to sight their rifles, they will be out on national forest and BLM lands, numerous speakers said.

Basalt resident Chris Wyckoff urged CPW to designate one or two days per week when hunters can use the range to sight their rifles, drawing one of the biggest cheers of the evening.

Larry Emery, representing the Roaring Fork Valley Sportsmen's Association, said the club would provide range safety officers and also train anyone who wants to perform the duty.

Former Basalt councilman Rob Leavitt noted that the Roaring Fork Valley offers a variety of world-class experiences. Now it needs a world-class shooting range.

"Make it safe. Make it quiet. Make it fireproof," he said.

Despite sentiments to get it open quickly, CPW is in a political position where it must improve fire precautions, given the damage caused by the fire and the firefighting expense exceeding $17 million. Four members of the parks and wildlife commission attended the meeting.

Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said during a panel discussion that his department would want to see fire safety improvements before it would endorse reopening.

"We need to figure out a way for this not to happen again," he said. The Lake Christine Fire was the second wildland fire in six years to originate at the gun range.

"How can we guarantee that we have safe use of the range?" Thompson said.

The audience sentiment was overwhelmingly in support of measures such as gun safety officers, round-the-clock video monitoring and other accountability steps. Some speakers noted it was illegal behavior that started the fires in 2012 and this summer. Others conceded steps must be taken to make sure "bad, dumb behavior" doesn't happen again.

CPW will host a second public meeting at Basalt High School on Monday at 6 p.m. There is also a Lake Christine public comment form available at a link at http://cpw.state.co.us.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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