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North Idaho shooting range in sight

Wed., Feb. 3, 2010

State plans to reopen Farragut site despite suit

BOISE – Idaho Fish and Game officials say they’re moving ahead with plans to reopen a public shooting range at Farragut State Park this spring, despite a lawsuit from neighbors that shut down the range in 2007.

“I think it’s really exciting to have a family shooting area,” Fish and Game Director Cal Groen told the Legislature’s joint budget committee Tuesday. “We will go back to court and ask a judge to open the range.”

Since it was shut down by court order, the state has spent $367,500 on upgrading the old military shooting range, and it plans to spend another $200,000. The state Legislature also passed a law – unanimously – in 2008 banning nuisance lawsuits over public shooting ranges, and setting new noise standards, including a requirement for soundproofing at new homes or businesses built near existing ranges.

“They just keep wasting our money,” declared Harvey Richman, a retired attorney who lives across the street from the park. “I’ve been hunting all my life. … I care; I want a nice range. I’m thrilled to have a nice range built. But you have to follow the rules.”

Richman contends it’s unconstitutional to pass legislation to short-circuit an existing lawsuit, and says changes already made at the Farragut range, including shortening the firing line, depressing it into the ground, and erecting steel “baffles” – all aimed at reducing both noise and stray bullets – didn’t do enough.

“You can’t change the fact that a 30-aught-6 bullet will go three miles, and a mile down the road you have houses,” Richman said. “People testified that bullets have hit their houses.”

It’s a dispute that taps a nerve in Idaho, where there’s overwhelming support for gun rights as well as for private property rights.

“I grew up in North Idaho, and hearing gunfire is not an unusual occurrence,” said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, who co-sponsored the 2008 legislation. “That’s been a shooting range for close to 65 years now. They knew it was there when they moved in. I’m sorry; it’s like moving in next to a pig farm and then complaining it stinks.”

Richman, who’s lived across from the park for 30 years, said neighbors were galvanized into action when Fish and Game proposed a $3.6 million expansion of the range. A judge ruled the range unsafe and shut it down until both noise and safety issues were addressed.

Richman said he didn’t know the range was there for the first five years he lived across from it, as sporadic gunfire in the woods was normal. But he said roughly 30 homes are threatened by stray bullets from a more intensely used shooting range. The group he represents is called Citizens Against Range Expansion, or CARE.

“I mean, guns, God bless, when they pry it from my cold dead hands – that’s what we’re fighting here,” Richman said. “It isn’t that we’re anti-gun – most everybody in CARE hunts. We just don’t want to get shot.”

Fish and Game officials told lawmakers Tuesday they’ll spend up to $95,000 on shooting range improvements next year from fines for fishing and hunting violations, with most of the money going to Farragut. They’ve also introduced legislation to allow more fine money to be spent on shooting ranges in the future.

The state also got several grants from the National Rifle Association.

“Shooting sports are an important part of the recreational life of Idahoans,” Broadsword said. “We hunt, we fish, we own guns, and we need to sight ’em in. I’m happy they’ve put in safety improvements and noise abatement strategies. I guess it’s up to the judge now.”

North Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Tony McDermott said, “We hope to get that thing back and running this spring. There’s not enough shooting ranges in North Idaho, and that was a great location for one.”

Richman says neighbors will continue their legal fight and said he has evidence of “tragic engineering mistakes” in the work done so far. “This is the only case that I have and it will outlive me,” he said. “I’m 70 years old. I am telling you that I will be dead and buried before this is returned from the U.S. Supreme Court.”

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