CPW agrees to safety officer, surveillance cameras at Basalt shooting range
The Basalt shooting range will likely be safer but not any quieter, at least in the short term, if Colorado Parks and Wildlife implements steps recommended last night by a citizens’ committee.
A task force appointed by the state agency unveiled its recommendations before a sparse crowd at Basalt High School.
The committee recommended two major changes to immediately improve safety — hiring a range safety officer and installing 24-hour video surveillance cameras with storage capability for 10 days.
CPW has already committed $20,000 toward the cameras this year and agreed to fund a safety officer from July through November, the period of busiest use and highest fire danger. That person will check in visitors to the shooting range and “make sure they are abiding by all the rules we have established,” said Matt Yamashita, district wildlife manager for the Basalt area.
Dean Riggs, CPW’s deputy regional manager, said there are no guarantees for ongoing funding for those safety steps, but he’s confident they will be institutionalized.
“We’re in better financial shape now than we have been for a good 30 or 40 years,” Riggs told an audience of about 50 people. “The future looks good for funding.”
He said increased safety at the shooting range is important to both the midvalley community and CPW.
“This is a high priority for us,” he said.
The Lake Christine Fire erupted at the shooting range in the late afternoon of July 3 last year when a shooter fired tracer ammunition at the rifle portion of the facility. Allison Marcus, who shot the tracer, and her boyfriend, Richard Miller, who coordinated the target practice, have pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of setting fire to range or prairie in connection to the fire. They will be sentenced July 1.
The fire burned nearly 12,600 acres of federal, state and private land, destroyed three houses and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents.
There was a lot of public anger directed at CPW for allowing the shooting range to remain open during stage two fire restrictions in Eagle County, where the facility is located, and in the surrounding White River National Forest at the time.
Riggs said the coordination of stage two fire restrictions remains an issue in his mind.
“Every county across the state is different,” he said. “The federal agencies are different.”
There needs to be better communication between the state, local and federal agencies on what the restrictions mean, according to Riggs.
“Are we still going to try to follow the lead of the county in question? Absolutely,” he said.
But he stressed it will take “leadership at the state level” to coordinate the restrictions across all counties and agencies. “Right now, it’s completely inconsistent,” Riggs said.
CPW held two public meetings in August to address issues surrounding the shooting range and Lake Christine Fire. The first meeting attracted more than 300 people. The next drew in excess of 200. The crowd was polarized in both gatherings.
CPW responded by forming a task force comprising a diverse group of longtime midvalley residents. The members are George Trantow, Bill Kane, Stacey Craft, Rob Leavitt, Larry Emery and Charles Spickert. All live in or directly adjacent to Basalt.
The committee met about once per month for more than six months to come up with short- and long-term recommendations on shooting range issues. Yamashita and Riggs praised the group for its work on tough issues.
Many safety steps recommended by the group have been or will be undertaken by CPW, Yamashita said.
• Completion of removal of more vegetation on the rifle, shotgun and pistol portions of the range. That work continues this summer with removal of all brush and trees within 75 yards of the shooting areas. Vegetation between the ranges will also be removed this summer.
• Covering range surfaces with recycled asphalt from road projects. That will be completed this summer. The chewed up asphalt is currently being stored near Lake Christine, at the base of the wildlife area.
• The berms behind the target areas were beefed up to 20 feet from 10 feet.
• Creation of an irrigated greenbelt behind the target area and on the side of the ranges at the recommendation of Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Chief Scott Thompson. An irrigated hay field in the state wildlife area was unscathed even though hundreds of acres around it burned in July. Seeding for the greenbelt will occur in July.
• Fire extinguishers have been installed at the range facilities. Water storage will be added to enhance firefighting.
The committee recommended looking into alternative sites but acknowledged they are few, far between and, if they can be found, cost prohibitive.
Given that situation, the task force advised CPW to explore building an enclosed facility on the current site. That was also portrayed as a long shot due to cost of construction, maintenance and operation.
The committee said further steps to reduce noise should be explored, though it appears the most obvious steps were taken in 2004.
The committee advised returning to longer hours at the facility. After the fire, CPW restricted public access on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, special use groups are able to use the range seven days per week.
The committee determined that restricting hours risks forcing target shooters out into the Roaring Fork Valley’s national forests and Bureau of Land Management areas. That creates additional risks and dangers.
The committee’s recommendation was to set three seasons for the range. In summer season, the facility would be open to the public seven days per week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In winter, it would be limited to five days per week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In shoulder season, including prior to fall hunting, it would be open six days per week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Yamashita said changing hours would require CPW review. The recommendation could be approved at an administrative level or forwarded to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, its governing board. If a board decision is deemed necessary, the change in hours might not be implemented until spring 2020, he said.
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