Public reacts to plans for proposed gun range

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At the July 14 meeting of the Muscatine County Zoning Commission, the Muscatine County Conservation Board presented a proposal to construct a public shooting range on a parcel of land that the county currently owns in Pike Township at 1886 170 Street, West Liberty. Muscatine County Conservation Board Director Curt Weiss made the presentation to the commission.

“We have been trying to find a parcel of land that would work for a county range for over fifteen years. Citizens began requesting this when target shooting on public hunting areas in the county, due to safety concerns,” said Weiss. The county has experienced challenges in finding suitable sites that were already owned by the public. After considering the properties the county owned, Weiss concluded that the parcel at 1886 170 Street would meet the safety guidelines. “After evaluating the property, we felt that would could offer a range with a maximum shooting range of 200 yards,” Weiss said.

The parcel in question was acquired by the county via FEMA reclamation. This brings added restrictions on how the property is developed. Per Weiss’s presentation, FEMA prohibits the building of permanent structures. Shelters with open sides can be constructed; however, no concrete can be poured, and all fill materials have to be from the site. This requires that proposed berms that will need to be constructed will have to be made from fill material at the existing site, which means the creation of three new wetlands in the area. FEMA also requires an environmental stewardship and closure plan to be completed to mitigate any contamination from the lead shot that would be discharged at the range.

The process with FEMA began in May 2014. In January 2017, FEMA granted the Muscatine County Conservation Board permission to pursue the special use permit that would allow construction of the range. The next phase of the project, according to Weiss, was to pursue permits. Weiss further explained the process. “In May of 2017, we applied for floodplain permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the DNR. We were informed that would have to make sure to not disrupt the natural habitat of the two species of turtles that are threatened in Iowa, including the Ornate Box Turtle.”

The design of the range will be modeled after similar ranges that are located in Linn County and Des Moines County. Each of these locations are similar in size to what is being proposed in Muscatine County. Side berms will be designed to be ten feet tall, while the termination of the range will be twenty feet tall. The proposed design also includes a twenty-five yard pistol range. In addition to the berms, fencing will surround the range, with signage indicating no trespassing and the dangers of walking onto the range.

Weiss stated that “the range will be open to the general public; however, shooters will need to go through a screening and certification process. This will also be available to the local youth shooting sports teams, and the county will use the facility for hunter safety courses.” The facility would also provide the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Department, Department of Natural Resources, and other law enforcement agencies use of the range for training.

Currently, the county does not have a publicly owned facility for marksman training. “We use a range on private land,” said Muscatine County Sheriff C.J. Ryan. “It is possible that our current agreement with the land owner could change. We don’t foresee it happening in the near future, but at any time, the private citizen could discontinue our use of the facility.”

Citizens were then granted the floor to address the commission. Jesse Shield, who lives directly adjacent to the property, voiced his concerns. “My house is 1600 feet from the range. I worry about safety. I have land that I lease to a livestock farmer. This could potentially jeopardize that lease. I have a son and family. I worry about a misfire coming onto our property.”

Wes Drayfahl, who lives an estimated eighth of a mile from the proposed site, had similar concerns as Shield. “I worry a lot about stray bullets, but I also worry about the increased traffic that we are going to see. These are gravel roads. The dust will be terrible and dangerous. Also, I don’t want to hear guns going off at all hours of the day.” Shield ended his statement to the commission with, “I brought my checkbook tonight. I am prepared to buy the land.”

Many who live and own land in the Pike Township were strongly against the construction of the range. However, the packed room had many supporters of the proposed facility. Adam Axtell of Wilton is an assistant coach for the Wilton Shooting Club. The high school shooting team qualified for the state competition this year but currently doesn’t have a facility that is close where they can train. “Moving forward, we are finding out that Iowa and a lot of other school clubs have pistol and other clay shooting options that we don’t have in Muscatine County. This would be a good thing for our kids as we grow,” Axtell said. “Even though this is a club event, we hold our kids to academic requirements. They are lettering in these sports. We are about 45 minutes away from the nearest facility that would allow us to have access to what we need.”

The next step in the process is for the zoning commission to determine if they will move forward in procuring a special use permit. “This is a typical zoning process. The zoning board here will make a recommendation to the zoning board of adjustment for a special use permit. They will come to the Board of Supervisors with their recommendations. The Board of Supervisors will then approve recommendation or remand the decision back to them if we felt it was in error. This [Planning and Zoning] board has the say,” said County Board of Supervisor Chair Jeff Sorenson.