Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 12, 2013

Editorial: Past time to address shooting range issues

Traverse City Record-Eagle

— To hear state Department of Natural Resources officials talk about it, there’s no big hurry to resolve issues surrounding informal shooting ranges on state land off Hoosier Valley Road.

After a meeting last week with neighbors worried about noise and stray bullets, Blair Township officials and those who use the ranges, a DNR official said he and his staff will meet in a week or two to discuss options but any decisions won’t be made until “later.”

Most likely, that means residents will go another summer - or a good portion of it, anyway - with a never-ending soundtrack of gunshots at all hours and booms from exploding targets, shot-up road signs and all kinds of junk being hauled into the woods to be used for target practice.

Taking time to sort through hours of comments made at a heated meeting last week before making final decisions makes perfect sense. That’s the point of public hearings, after all.

But stretching out the decision-making process through another summer totally ignores the fact that state officials have been turning a blind eye to this problem for years, even after prodding from local officials. This is not a new problem.

Blair Township Supervisor Patrick Pahl said he’s been getting complaints about the ranges for six years and has passed them along to the DNR.

So where is the accountability?

The informal shooting ranges have been used for decades, long before most of the homes in the area were built. But the ranges have become a free-for-all, with no limits on hours, no limits on the kinds of weapons used or on exploding targets or on the junk left in the woods.

The state has not taken even basic steps to ensure safety, such as creating a flat backdrop for targets or regulating hours. Neighbors say shooters sometimes shoot in the woods or nearby utility rights-of-way near houses when the ranges are full.

At a minimum, the state must regulate hours and ensure that shooting is done at the ranges and nowhere else; if that means some enforcement at the site, so be it.

The ranges have been a legal recreation area for decades, but the state has an obligation to ensure their safe use.

The rights, concerns and needs of shooters and residents alike must be taken into account and new rules must come soon. The state has for years known about the problems there but has chosen to ignore them. No longer.