Board hears from citizens about shooting range

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Grayson supervisors and citizens have questions about a proposal from the NRA

By Patrick Smith

INDEPENDENCE — The Grayson County Board of Supervisors met in front of a larger than usual crowd on the evening of Nov. 8 to discuss the idea of creating a shooting range for the public.
During the board’s October meeting, Assistant County Administrator Mitch Smith said the National Rifle Association had offered Grayson a $25,000 grant to construct a firing range in the county. If the county decides to accept the NRA’s offer, it will have to match the $25,000 to meet the approximate total cost of $50,000.
The county owns the proposed site for the range, which is off Graystone Road, just across the street from the county’s closed landfill and just a short distance south of Independence.
At the meeting, the board discussed the pros and cons of accepting the NRA’s offer and listened to concerns from several members of the public, most of whom said they live near the site.
Before the public was allowed to voice concerns, County Administrator Jonathan Sweet provided an update and more information to the board about the firing range. Sweet told the board that the Grayson County Sheriffs Department and many citizens supported the idea, and he showed examples of firing ranges in other communities that were similar in setup to what the county is considering.
He said that the 200-yard range would include “top-notch” safety and noise-reduction features.
Sweet suggested the range could benefit the county in several ways and be appealing to both Grayson County residents and people from surrounding communities. He said it would be much larger than the ones in neighboring Wythe and Alleghany Counties, and it would also be much cheaper to purchase passes.
He said it was hard to predict revenue the range would bring in, but the county would not be required to hire anyone to look after the range during or after hours, which would reduce not only maintenance costs but also liability issues. All users of the range would be required to have a pass, and the sheriff’s office would patrol the area regularly to enforce safety.
In terms of operational hours, Sweet said the range would be open five-and-a-half days a week and would open 30 minutes after sunrise and close 30 minutes before sunset as an added safety measure. To make sure the hours are enforced, he said the range might require a surveillance camera and possibly a locked gate and fence around the perimeter.
For the price of admission, Grayson residents would receive a discount on daily, annual and lifetime passes.
Those serving in the military would be required to obtain a pass, but could use the range for free.

Questions from Supervisors and Citizens
After Sweet provided details about the range’s potential, board members asked questions and raised their concerns about the range.
Supervisor Mike Maynard asked Sweet how the public reacted to the idea.
The county administrator answered that he had received both positive and negative feedback from the community. He said some citizens had been very supportive and excited about the idea, while many had also opposed the idea due to noise and safety concerns.
He said some residents had even signed petitions against it.
In answer to noise concerns, Sweet said that noise levels at other shooting ranges have been studied, and the decibel level produced at about a quarter mile — which is the distance to the nearest house to the range — is below 60.
He said that amount of sound would be equivalent to hearing a dishwasher running in the next room of a home. He also pointed out that firing ranges need to be located near residential areas in case of accidents so that law enforcement or medical assistance could respond quickly.
Sweet said safety was the county’s main concern in moving forward with the idea.
“We want to make sure if we do this we do it right,” he said. “But no location would be perfect.”
After Sweet addressed questions from the board, citizens in attendance were allowed to speak on the matter.
Most of the speakers’ primary concerns were family safety and noise. Several also claimed that they had measured and found that the nearest houses were closer to the site than a quarter mile.
Another of the locals’ big concerns was the extra traffic that the firing range would inevitably bring to their highway and the additional trash that would be produced on the roadside.
Some citizens were also concerned about the range disturbing the environment and wildlife in the area, and some cautioned that building it near a landfill was unwise.

The Next Step
After hearing the citizens’ concerns, the board members resumed their own discussion of the topic.
Maynard made a motion to go through with the application process and submit a special use permit to the county planning commission. The motion was passed with a unanimous vote.
Maynard stressed that he wanted a fair hearing from the public before the board takes responsibility for the project.
To that end, the county will hear from more citizens on the matter in an upcoming public hearing.

Other Action
Also at the Nov. 8 meeting:
• Sweet announced that the county negotiated lower insurance rates with Anthem.
He said it would save the county and employees money, lowering the tax rate by 2.6 percent, down to 1.4 percent. The national average for 2012 was a 4 percent increase.
• Sweet also announced that the county had executed successful tabletop exercises, which simulated the county’s preparedness in an active shooter situation.