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Commissioners take fire over gun range

Jason Ferguson
Published: Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Southern Hills Tactical Gun Range has drawn the ire of its neighbors, who fear getting hit by a stray bullet from those practicing at the range. Many of the neighbors showed up at the last meeting of the Custer County Commission to protest the location of the range. Commissioners have said there was no reason to deny permits for the range.

 

By Jason Ferguson
Those who own land adjacent to the Southern Hills Tactical shooting range made their feelings clear as to what they want done with the range at the regular meeting of the Custer County Commission March 7.
“What we need to do is shut that shooting range down,”â��said Bob Plaisted, who has owned land next to the range for 31 years.
That was the sentiment shared by much of the crowd that packed into the commission meeting room to discuss the gun range, with most saying the range is a hazard to them, their families and their animals. Others mentioned the possible adverse effects of all the lead at the range, as well as the lowering of their property values.
Custer County planning director David Green started the talk by giving a presentation about how the gun range came about, and how and why a permit for construction of the gun range was issued by the county. Green said county ordinance dictates how land may be used. In this instance, the land is subject to the rules of the county’s airport zoning ordinance, as it is adjacent to the Custer County Airport, as well as the county’s ordinance No. 2, which deals with land use and development. 
Green told the audience the gun range, which sits on a commercially zoned five-acre parcel, does not violate either ordinance.
Green said both the South Dakota Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Aviation (FAA) administration were leery of allowing the gun range to be built in its location, as was the county, but neither entity was ready to declare it an incompatible use of the land. 
“We didn’t have a reason to deny his right to use his land as he was proposing,” Green said.â��“We had to make a decision instead of holding up the property owner.”
The decision was made to issue permits for the range, since it was not in violation of any county ordinances. The owner of the gun range, Michael Mooney, was not present at the March 7 meeting. Mooney has said the shooting range meets or exceeds all National Rifle Association safety standards for berms and targets.
Area landowner Joan Finch believed — whether it was Mooney or the county — someone should have contacted landowners around the proposed range site to notify them of the plans. She argued that while the range may not violate any county ordinances, it raises ethical issues.
“Do any of you want to come home at night and listen to gunshots? It is disrupting a quiet neighborhood,” she said. She also said she feels no matter which way the county came down on the issue, it was opening itself up to potential litigation in the future.
Plaisted said he has heard of ricochets from bullets in the area three times, and said he believes someone will eventually be struck by a bullet and possibly killed.
“What rights do we have? In the summertime it’s going to be total hell,” he said.â��“You start hearing the shooting and you can’t stay outside.”
The range follows a protocol when planes are landing, said Mark Stites, airport manager. Stites said if someone is using the range and sees a plane in the area, they are to cease fire until the range is activated again. The range also has a radio to monitor air traffic in and out of the airport. 
Also, when Mooney hears planes preparing to land or take off, he uses an air horn to notify shooters to cease fire. However, not all planes have radios and it is not a requirement for planes to notify of a landing or a take-off at an airport the size of Custer County’s. The airport runway is around 20 feet higher than the shooting range and is protected by berms.
Helen Carney questioned what the repercussions were for someone who did not cease fire when a plane came. It was a question nobody could answer.
“So there is no enforcement,”â��she said.
Larry Vetterman of the South Dakota Aeronautics Commission said the commission heard of the gun range and decided to take action and asked for help from the state to get the range closed, but was told the state had no authority to do so. 
He said the aeronautics commission feels the gun range is very much an incompatible use of land next to an airport, and warned that the FAA�could pull funding from the airport if the range is left open. He said the South Dakota Pilots Association and the state have reservations about the range being next to the airport.
The commission told those in attendance it was set to meet with FAA�officials this week to discuss the issue and see what, if any, steps could or should be taken. At that time, there will be more information to disperse to the public.
Commissioner David Hazeltine told the audience it’s not easy to get regulations passed in Custer County that deal with zoning, which in turn makes it tough for the commission to take care of situations such as this.
“We were not comfortable with what we had to do,”â��he said.

Those who own land adjacent to the Southern Hills Tactical shooting range made their feelings clear as to what they want done with the range at the regular meeting of the Custer County Commission March 7.

“What we need to do is shut that shooting range down,”â��said Bob Plaisted, who has owned land next to the range for 31 years.

That was the sentiment shared by much of the crowd that packed into the commission meeting room to discuss the gun range, with most saying the range is a hazard to them, their families and their animals. Others mentioned the possible adverse effects of all the lead at the range, as well as the lowering of their property values.

Custer County planning director David Green started the talk by giving a presentation about how the gun range came about, and how and why a permit for construction of the gun range was issued by the county. Green said county ordinance dictates how land may be used. In this instance, the land is subject to the rules of the county’s airport zoning ordinance, as it is adjacent to the Custer County Airport, as well as the county’s ordinance No. 2, which deals with land use and development. 

Green told the audience the gun range, which sits on a commercially zoned five-acre parcel, does not violate either ordinance.

Green said both the South Dakota Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Aviation (FAA) administration were leery of allowing the gun range to be built in its location, as was the county, but neither entity was ready to declare it an incompatible use of the land. 

“We didn’t have a reason to deny his right to use his land as he was proposing,” Green said.â��“We had to make a decision instead of holding up the property owner.”

The decision was made to issue permits for the range, since it was not in violation of any county ordinances. The owner of the gun range, Michael Mooney, was not present at the March 7 meeting. Mooney has said the shooting range meets or exceeds all National Rifle Association safety standards for berms and targets.

Area landowner Joan Finch believed — whether it was Mooney or the county — someone should have contacted landowners around the proposed range site to notify them of the plans. She argued that while the range may not violate any county ordinances, it raises ethical issues.

“Do any of you want to come home at night and listen to gunshots? It is disrupting a quiet neighborhood,” she said. She also said she feels no matter which way the county came down on the issue, it was opening itself up to potential litigation in the future.

Plaisted said he has heard of ricochets from bullets in the area three times, and said he believes someone will eventually be struck by a bullet and possibly killed.

“What rights do we have? In the summertime it’s going to be total hell,” he said.â��“You start hearing the shooting and you can’t stay outside.”

The range follows a protocol when planes are landing, said Mark Stites, airport manager. Stites said if someone is using the range and sees a plane in the area, they are to cease fire until the range is activated again. The range also has a radio to monitor air traffic in and out of the airport. 

Also, when Mooney hears planes preparing to land or take off, he uses an air horn to notify shooters to cease fire. However, not all planes have radios and it is not a requirement for planes to notify of a landing or a take-off at an airport the size of Custer County’s. The airport runway is around 20 feet higher than the shooting range and is protected by berms.

Helen Carney questioned what the repercussions were for someone who did not cease fire when a plane came. It was a question nobody could answer.

“So there is no enforcement,”â��she said.

Larry Vetterman of the South Dakota Aeronautics Commission said the commission heard of the gun range and decided to take action and asked for help from the state to get the range closed, but was told the state had no authority to do so. 

He said the aeronautics commission feels the gun range is very much an incompatible use of land next to an airport, and warned that the FAA�could pull funding from the airport if the range is left open. He said the South Dakota Pilots Association and the state have reservations about the range being next to the airport.

The commission told those in attendance it was set to meet with FAA�officials this week to discuss the issue and see what, if any, steps could or should be taken. At that time, there will be more information to disperse to the public.

Commissioner David Hazeltine told the audience it’s not easy to get regulations passed in Custer County that deal with zoning, which in turn makes it tough for the commission to take care of situations such as this.

“We were not comfortable with what we had to do,”â��he said.

 



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Current Comments

5 comments so far (post your own)
Bruce Plate
March 15th, 2012 at 09:17am

I am looking forward to using the range this spring and summer. A question for the opposition. Would you want someone in the National Forest shooting in whatever direction they so please with no supervision? Or on an established shooting range with safety berms and supervision? It is curious that the neighbors did not notice the construction process over several months. Has anyone in the opposition visited the range and sat down and discussed the range operating procedure with the owner?

Randy
March 16th, 2012 at 13:56pm

I live in Sioux city Ia. We have two gun ranges. one is a private club the other
the police dept. They both are on the airport property? Home of the 185th ANG
AIR NATIONAL GUARD. No problems

Bruce Plate
March 16th, 2012 at 16:05pm

When discussing the range safety issue, let's remember the location of the airport. Has an airplane ever crashed into a home near the airport? Could it happen? Are the opponents interested in shutting down the airport? I read that one neighbor was complaining about the possible noise. Did I miss something. Do airplanes that fly in and out of the Custer airport have engines or is only hot air balloons and gliders. If a decible level is checked I would guarantee that the noise from the traffic on the highway and the airplanes are much louder than the sound of gunfire on a shooting range which is enclosed with earthen safety berms.

Susan Haeker
March 25th, 2012 at 12:11pm

I live a mile south of the Custer Airport shooting range. The noise from gunshots this afternoon was so annoying that I couldn't enjoy peacefully reading on my patio, nor could I enjoy open windows without the annoyance of gunshots polluting the air. The noise from the guns is much louder than highway traffic and I have never heard the sounds of airplanes landing or taking off. I feel so sorry for those living closer environmental health hazard than I do.

jonn
February 8th, 2013 at 09:52am

whell i understand but it depends whether or not the gun range land was bought first

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