The 70-year-old shooting range at Farragut State Park will reopen in the spring after a six-year closure prompted by protests from neighboring residents concerned about noise and errant bullets.
In a victory for sport shooters, the Idaho Supreme Court on Thursday lifted an injunction that has kept the shooting range closed since early 2007.
The decision permits the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to reopen the Farragut range for up to 500 shooter visits per year, and possibly for unlimited use, if a District Court judge determines all noise and safety concerns have been addressed.
Fish and Game will look at reopening the range next spring, after the agency has had time to arrange on-site management and establish operating hours, said Chip Corsi, supervisor of the agency’s Panhandle region.
“It’s a really good thing,” Corsi said. “It’s been a long time coming and it’s meant a lot of folks going to other places to shoot that were not nearly as safe,” such as open areas on public land, he said.
“The good news is that it will be open at some point in the not-too-distant future,” Corsi said.
Harvey Richman, an attorney for the opponents as well as one of the neighbors, said he was displeased with the court’s opinion.
“I’m not a happy camper,” Richman said. “The truth is, it’s the wrong place (for a shooting range), but I’ve lost that argument.”
However, he did note that the District Court still will rule on whether the range is safe enough for more than 500 shooter visits per year. Until then, the range can operate each year only until it hits its 500th visit.
“We will work assiduously to present a case to the trial court that bullets can and will escape the property, and if we can convince the court that is true, then the range will not open for 501 (visits),” Richman said. “Five hundred is not a lot of people.”
Corsi said Fish and Game looks forward to resolving the cap on shooters. “Obviously, we’d like flexibility to get more use out of it than that,” he said.
In its opinion, the Supreme Court also reversed a district judge’s finding that the Idaho Outdoor Sport Shooting Range is unconstitutional. The Legislature adopted the law in 2008, setting a uniform noise standard for outdoor shooting ranges.
The Farragut range, which opened in 1942 as part of the World War II naval training station at Lake Pend Oreille, was closed in 2007 by a district court order. Fish and Game had proposed a multimillion-dollar expansion of the range, but neighbors objected, saying increased use of it would lead to greater noise and errant bullets that could strike their homes.
Citizens Against Range Expansion, a group of Bayview residents, sued in 2005 to stop the expansion and also halt the state’s operation of the range. Kootenai County 1st District Judge John Mitchell closed the range under a temporary injunction until noise and safety improvements could be made.
The state spent $260,000 from hunting and fishing fines, timber sales and National Rifle Association grants to improve safety and reduce noise at the range. The work entailed lowering the 100-yard range, building 12-foot berms to muffle noise and contain bullets, and installing overhead safety baffles.
Even after those improvements, Mitchell declined to lift the injunction. In August 2011, he ruled that some rounds would ricochet off the rock-filled range floor and could fly over newly installed berms, posing a danger to neighbors.
The Supreme Court disagreed, saying Fish and Game had complied with the District Court’s conditions to reopen the range for up to 500 shooter visits.
Fish and Game had completed upgrades to the 100-yard range and still has work to do on the 50-yard and 200-yard ranges, Corsi said.
The range is west of Bayview and south of East Perimeter Road. Hunters and target shooters use it to sight in rifles and perfect their shots.