City has gun club on hold since 2004

Two organizations have wanted to award the Ashland Gun Club nearly $10,000 in grant money since 2004, but the club's inability to get an audience with the city council is holding up those funds.

Chuck Parlier, gun club president, approached the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission in February 2004 when he learned that the funds were contingent on the club having at least a 10-year lease in place. The commission manages the lease for the city.

In 2004, the club wanted the lease, which expires on May 31, 2009, to be extended to 2029 to secure the grants from the Oregon Fish and Wildlife and Friends of the National Rifle Association for improvements to the facility, including a lead clean-up project.

"We want to become an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) certified outdoor range," Parlier said .

Mike LaNier, another gun club member, said the range plans to follow the EPA's rules for Best Management Practices for Lead at Outdoor Shooting Ranges.

"Our goal is to operate in the most environmentally responsible manner possible. And that includes removing the lead from the berms," LaNier said.

The ten berms in question are three-sided walls of compacted dirt. It is required that the back berm be at least 10-feet tall, but some currently stand at 20-feet.

The club plans to hire Larry Stockman, owner of Northwest Shot in Phoenix, to do the clean up.

"Larry charges $1,000 a day and thinks it will take four to five days to do the job," Parlier said.

Stockman uses a machine that sifts the soil and then recycles the lead into shot for gun shells. "I don't think lead is any more harmful than rocks unless you eat it. And I don't think there's enough lead out there to even worry about, but I'll do it," Parlier said.

Lithia Springs water from the Pompadour Chief Spring on the gun club property is pumped to the drinking fountain at Lithia Park, or at least it is when the fountain is in working condition.

Jim Olson, interim director of Ashland public works, said Lithia Springs water gets tested once a year. In a recent testing, he said safe levels of antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, nickel, selenium and sodium were found. Cyanide, fluoride, lead and mercury were not detected.

Why the delays?

At the commission meeting in February 2004, neighbors voiced their concerns about the noise, especially during National Guard and police training sessions.

The Ashland Historic Commission worried about the historical features on the gun club property being damaged by bullets. In addition to the Ashland Springs pump, there are wall remnants from the old dry ice plant that was razed in 1955.

The historic commission is trying to get the springs listed on the National Register of Historic Places. George Kramer, a historical preservation consultant in Ashland, prepared an evaluation for the city in July 2005, saying that formal listing on the national registry would not prohibit the current activities at the gun club.

The parks commission and historic commission toured the gun club in April 2004.

Former City Attorney Mike Franell said once the gun club and the parks commission agreed on a lease agreement, it should then go to the city council for approval.

Mike LaNier said the club has been in negotiations with the parks commission and has made several changes to its lease agreement.

"We're now only asking for a 10-year extension and we've changed our hours to address neighbors' concerns. There is, however, a disclaimer for state and local police and the National Guard, because they do have to do night training."

In a memo dated Sept. 15, 2004, Don Roberson, director of the city's parks and recreation department, said that the parks commission and city council should hold a joint study session in April 2005.

Robertson said once the lease got ironed out, he sent it to the city attorney. "During that time, city attorney Mike Franell left. So the new lease is at the interim city attorney's office. But as you can imagine, he's a bit busy right now.

"This is not a simple administrative issue. It deals with a long-term lease involving a city resource. So it will have to go before the full council for a public discussion.

Some neighbors have voiced concerns about the hours. People like to sleep in on Sunday mornings and shooters like to shoot when there's no wind, which is usually early mornings. The gun club has been there for decades and decades. And people built their homes knowing the shooting range was there. These are the issues that are going to come up at the city council," said Robertson.

Since the issue came up in 2004, the city has had two city administrators and two city attorneys. Still, City Administrator Martha Bennett said she understands the gun club's frustration.

"This funding opportunity came up for them and I understand there were some meetings with the neighbors. They were told in 2005 by someone that we'd get right on this. But since that time our legal department has experienced a 100 percent turnover. We have 12 or 13 active legal cases and right now we just don't have the staff to cope with this right now.

"This isn't a quick cut-and-dry issue. I expect there will be multiple points of views regarding their lease. We have to be able to have the staff in place to get the council through all the discussions that are going to take place. The reality is I know how important this issue is to them, and I'm sorry they got caught in this transition we're going through," she said. "This is not the only project on hold."

Gun Club users

The Ashland Gun Club has about 400 family memberships. Many use the facilities for handgun and rifle practice, as well as skeet, trap and archery practice.

But many other groups use the facilities as well. The Ashland and Talent Police Departments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensic Lab, Oregon Army National Guard, United Hunters and Sportsmen, Ashland Archers and Jefferson State Regulators hold training sessions at the club. Gun safety classes as well as concealed weapons certification training are taught at the club, too.

First Sergeant James Couch with the Army National Guard in Ashland said, "We use the facilities about three times a year. We have an indoor range but it's a pistol caliber only. We use rifles, so we need to practice on a rifle range. The nearest army facility is Camp Adair, north of Corvallis. That's quite a long drive for us."

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