Guest commentary: CPW not shooting straight about Basalt range working group
As one of six citizens who recently served on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Basalt shooting range working group, I’m deeply concerned about misrepresentations the CPW has made about the group’s work, as well as the nature of some of the recommendations and the process behind them.
A CPW statement said the group “sought the advice of experts, conducted extensive research and participated in vigorous debate.” It quoted J.T. Romatzke, CPW area wildlife manager, as saying the group “functioned independently with minimal oversight by CPW.” This is more than misleading. In reality, CPW required us to sign a contract, which stated in part: “The work of the BWG is private. Members are asked to refrain from revealing private BWG discussions and actions with members of the public, mass media and/or social media.”
This “gag order” prevented us from seeking the advice of the experts and government officials most likely to assist us in making educated recommendations. Members requested the establishment of criteria upon which to base our recommendations. Defined criteria would have enabled the group to undertake appropriate research and seek out criteria-aligned experts. The fact that no criteria were established seriously undermines the validity of group’s recommendations, and calls into question the integrity of the CPW’s process.
We met with no experts. I asked repeatedly for CPW to bring in a wildland fire expert. None was provided. A Lake Christine wildfire mitigation report that was developed by the Division of Fire Prevention was not provided. I asked for CPW’s land acquisition specialist to discuss basic land acquisition information with us. This was denied. No lead test results were provided to us, as CPW apparently has never done testing, despite 50-plus years of untreated lead toxin from the range that has accumulated in close proximity to the Roaring Fork River, and in the path of an area determined by government maps to be prone to fire-scar mudslides and flash floods.
The committee was an exercise in lost opportunities. In six months, we had only one 90-minute session with Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield county representatives. They seemed enthusiastic to provide resources for a tri-county shooting range solution. No young, current range users were seated on the committee, even though the original selection pool included younger range users who had relevant knowledge of GIS mapping and public land swaps (and, they’d used ranges in many states and had good ideas about future-planning the valley’s range needs).
The most startling recommendation that came out of our effort was a grassy “green belt.” CPW noted that the irrigated hay meadows above the range survived the fire while everything around it burned last summer. That was a mere observation. The green belt is an idea, but it is now touted by CPW as their “solution.” It is purely speculative that a green belt will keep Basalt safe from a third shooting range fire. No data or research have been presented to support the concept, nor has a plan been offered as to design, irrigation, cost, or how its potential effectiveness would be evaluated.
It’s summer, the rain has stopped, the 12-hour-a-day shooting continues, and Basalt residents cannot be faulted for being concerned that another fire originating at the range will follow those in 2012 and 2018. CPW doesn’t have a reassuring record in regards to Basalt’s safety. CPW virtually ignored the 2010 and 2018 unanimous Basalt Town Council Range Safety Resolutions, which asked for reduced operating hours and lead testing. There is a misconception that the whole range area burned to the ground and there are no flammables left. In fact, the right side of the shooting range area did not burn; it is full of pinons and grass. Fire follows fuel. The next range fire would likely send flames quickly into the heart of downtown Basalt.
A June 26 CPW statement touted the $30 million CPW is spending for its new 1,800-acre Cameo Shooting range complex near Palisade. It says Cameo “is the brainchild of CPW Regional Manager J.T. Romatzke.” Why won’t CPW and Romatzke commit to building a small Cameo for us, in a location that is properly sited for fire risk? We need a world-class, fire-safe, environmentally sound shooting range for our tri-county area.
Stacey Craft lives in Basalt and is a real estate adviser.
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