Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Controversial Cowlitz shooting range still needs key grant

by October 22nd, 2012

Scattered across the State of Washington are dozens of target practice ranges for owners of rifles, pistols and archery bows, and more than a few involve cooperative arrangements between local governments and non-profit shooting clubs. One these is the Roger Dahl Range operated in West Seattle by the West Seattle Sportsmen’s Club on City of Seattle property under a ten-year lease set to expire in 2013. Another is in Cowlitz County in southwest Washington, where on October 23rd the county council is set to approve a $153,330 contract with Horsely Construction for land preparation work on the Cowlitz County Public Shooting Range. The county has pledged a total of $245,000 in loans to the operator of the range, the non-profit Cowlitz Game and Anglers, to get the facility built, according to the Longview Daily News. The loans may or may not be forgiven. But despite the county’s help; despite surmounting protests from concerned neighbors and county taxpayers and winning a county land use permit with 44 provisos; and despite a groundbreaking ceremony last weekend, the project’s ultimate success may still hinge on a somewhat iffy state grant.

On land leased from the county at 1000 Toutle Park Road in the town of Castle Rock off Exit 52 of Interstate 5, the facility would feature a five-slot trap shooting range, a 20-position 300-meter rifle range and a space for 10 archers to aim for the bullseye. Cowlitz Game and Anglers says on its Web site it has been seeking volunteers to “pound nails, paint, install siding, roofing, build shooting benches (and) set up target structures.” Though not yet even open, the range has generated plenty of heat, from neighbors concerned about noise and lead pollution, and critics objecting to the county’s subsidizing of the facility. The $245,000 in county loans would be paid back over 15 years through fees collected at the site, officials say.

The county’s request for proposals from contractors specifies that the job now expected to be awarded to Horsely is for earthwork only; including construction of two gravel parking lots, a driveway, drainage swales, land grading, berm construction, an access road and an access path. The company will also do earthwork to set the stage for a 100-yard pistol/rifle range in the future. But to actually get built that pistol range as well as the trap fields, trap throwing machines, and clubhouse; and to install utilities and security lighting, and cover liability insurance and permitting costs, Cowlitz Game and Anglers needs a $100,000 matching grant for which it has applied to the state Recreation and Conservation Office through its Firearms and Archery Range Recreation Program (FARR) grant pool, funded by the $3 licensing fee each registered concealed pistol in the state. State, local and special purpose governments can apply, along with nonprofit shooting organizations.

The nonprofit’s FARR grant application was ranked fourth out of 13 made to the office last month, said RCO Director of Communications Susan Zemek. RCO will be requesting a 2013-14 biennial appropriation of $800,000 from the legislature for FARR. Typically the legislature has authorized about $500,000 every two years for the grants and if that happens again, the Cowlitz shooting range project will likely get its grant based on its ranking, said Zemek. But if the amount approved for FARR grants in 2013-14 is much less, it could be left unfunded by the state, she added. RCO awards the FARR grants every other June, after the legislature completes its new budget.

Dick Miller, President of Cowlitz Game and Anglers, said the group’s match of the hoped-for $100,000 state grant will include about $60,000 in donated volunteer labor, and about $40,000 in contributions. If the state grant does come through, the organization will still need to raise another $20,000; if the grant isn’t secured it will have to look to other sources such as the NRA, a non-political NRA arm, and other state funds from a long-standing federal tax on manufacturers of guns and ammunition. Under a county permit, the facility must be built by May 29, 2014.

For 2011-2012, there were seven successful FARR applicants, who together got $430,715; leveraged with another $484,030 in local matching funds. Projects included a clubhouse renovation at the Renton Fish and Game Club, a shotgun rage at the Tri-Cities Shooting Association, a safety buffer at the Little Mountain Archery Range in Mount Vernon, and acquisition and development of a shooting site for the Walla Walla Gun Club.

Miller said the facility is needed because although there are nine private shooting ranges in Cowlitz County there are none that are public. He added there are 30,000 gun owners living in the county of 100,000, plus some 20,000 annual hunting licenses sold at one store alone. Critics have objected to noise and lead pollution, and the county’s support of the project. The range would occupy one-quarter of a 320-acre county parcel bearing 13 million cubic yards of Toutle and Cowlitz River dredge spoils of volcanic debris from the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

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