The shooting range at Farragut State Park will reopen Saturday morning after a prolonged legal fight over noise and safety concerns.
The range, west of Bayview and south of East Perimeter Road, last was used in fall 2006. It has been closed under a court injunction since early 2007 while nearby homeowners pursued a lawsuit against the Idaho Department of Fish and Game over firearms noise and the danger of errant bullets.
Last November the Idaho Supreme Court reversed a district court ruling closing the range, and this morning Kootenai County 1st District Judge John Mitchell lifted his injunction that barred Fish and Game from operating the range the past six years.
The range, however, is limited to 500 shooter visits per year. Mitchell this year will consider allowing more than 500 visits per year.
Only the 100-yard range, consisting of 12 shooting positions, will open for now. Fish and Game officials believe they may be able to open the 200-yard range later, with court approval.
The range will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. the first and third Saturdays of the month through Labor Day. Then Fish and Game will assess where they’re at with the 500-visit limit and when the range may be open in the fall, including for hunters who want to sight in rifles for fall hunts.
Shooters have been eager to get back on the 71-year-old range, said Dave Leptich, the Fish and Game manager of the Farragut Wildlife Area.
“I think the park’s phone and my phone have been ringing off the hook,” Leptich said. “There’s a lot of interest in seeing this reopen and be available to the public.”
The legal battle began when Fish and Game proposed a multimillion-dollar expansion of the range. Neighbors objected, saying increased use 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 halt the state’s operation of the range. Mitchell closed the range under a temporary injunction until the state made noise and safety improvements to address the concerns raised by opponents.
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 a 25-foot-tall backstop, adding side berms that are 12 to 18 feet high 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 judge also declared that a 2008 state law setting a uniform noise standard for outdoor shooting ranges was unconstitutional.
The state Supreme Court overturned that finding in November and also ruled that Fish and Game had complied with the District Court’s conditions to reopen the range for up to 500 shooter visits.
While the noise issue is settled, safety remains a reason to keep the limit of 500 shooters per year and to prevent the 200-yard range or other parts of the range from reopening, said attorney Harvey Richman, representing opponents to the Farragut range.
Richman plans to file a motion soon arguing that the court has evidence in hand justifying not opening the range to more shooters.
“Bullets can and will leave the range. It’s just that simple,” he said.
The Farragut range opened in 1942 as part of the World War II naval training station at Lake Pend Oreille.