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Changes at shooting range aren’t enough, neighbors say

Fri., Oct. 15, 2010, 8:24 p.m.

Dave Leptich, of Idaho Fish and Game talked about the improvements of the  shooting range at Farragut State Park on Friday, October 15, 2010.  (Kathy Plonka)
Dave Leptich, of Idaho Fish and Game talked about the improvements of the shooting range at Farragut State Park on Friday, October 15, 2010. (Kathy Plonka)

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game on Friday received its seventh grant from the National Rifle Association to continue safety improvements at the Farragut State Park shooting range, as required by a judge’s order, even while opponents claimed everything already done needs to be torn out and started over.

The range, which opened in 1942 as part of Farragut’s World War II naval training station, was closed in 2007 by court order. Fish and Game had proposed a multimillion-dollar upgrade, but neighbors complained about noise and errant bullets, so the parties went to court. Kootenai County 1st District Judge John Mitchell closed the range under a temporary injunction until noise and safety improvements could be made.

Using funds from hunting and fishing violation fines, timber sales and NRA grants, improvements have been made that Fish and Game officials believe bring the 100-yard range into compliance. The state filed a motion with the court asking to open that part of the range for unlimited use. Dave Leptich, a regional wildlife habitat biologist, said the 200-yard range will be complete in a month.

“It is impossible for a bullet to directly leave this range in a down-range direction,” Leptich said. “We’ve got vertical containment and horizontal containment.”

However, Harvey Richman, an attorney for the opponents, Citizens Against Range Expansion (CARE), said that bullets can leave the range due to mistakes or negligence, and documents soon to be filed with the court will prove that.

“The court’s order does not allow for error,” Richman said. “It requires 100 percent bullet containment.”

Leptich said ranges are important for hunter recruitment, retention and education. They provide a place for rifles to be sighted in to ensure proper functioning while hunting. In addition, he said, shooting sports support local economies and wildlife conservation; in part through a federal tax on firearms and ammunition that funnels money to Fish and Game.

To comply with the judge’s order, the state installed three-sided shooting sheds with roofs partially backed by steel plates. On the 100-yard range, six 111/2-foot-high wooden baffles 51/2-inches thick and backed by two plates of steel are spaced to create an overlapping effect. The lower part of the baffle that creates the shooting window is 71/2-feet high.

The goal is to attain a “no blue sky” effect, meaning shooters at the stations firing down range cannot see blue sky. An earthen berm backstop at the end of the range is 25 feet high and the side berms are a minimum of 12 feet high, Leptich said. The ranges are sunk 4 to 8 feet below ground level.

However, Richman said blue sky can easily be seen to the left and right from the shooting stations and that puts the range out of compliance. He said an errant shot could also leave the range if fired toward the ceiling of the shed, where it would pierce part of the roof not backed by steel. And he said the side berms do not stretch far enough to prevent bullets from leaving the range.

“It is my opinion with an extremely high degree of confidence that the judge will be obliged to find they are not compliant with the order. It is that simple,” Richman said.

Leptich said that for every person who opposes the range, he has received numerous letters from people who support it.

“We want to be good neighbors. This shows a serious effort to make improvements out here,” he said, adding that the range has been in existence for more than 60 years and is much safer and quieter now. “We’re not going to shut it down.”

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