Commissioners take fire over gun range
Published: Thursday, March 15th, 2012
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,”âï¿½ï¿½said 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.âï¿½ï¿½“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.âï¿½ï¿½“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,”âï¿½ï¿½she 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 FAAâï¿½ï¿½could 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 FAAâï¿½ï¿½officials 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,”âï¿½ï¿½he said.
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