AshevilleCity - County Gov.Roger McCredie

Their ducks are all in a row; Cash-strapped county eyes $10M firing range


By Roger McCredie –

More bang for your buck.

That’s the rationale behind county law enforcement’s request to include $10 million for a new indoor firing range in this year’s county budget.

The county at present lacks a “home” facility where trainees can qualify to use their weapons and officers can practice. At one time or another, various outdoor locations around the county have been used for law enforcement firearms practice, but officials say one site after another has had to be abandoned , leaving law enforcement personnel to practice on a catch-as-catch can basis, according to Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan. Duncan said he would have been content with a permanent outdoor range, and that the county has been searching for a safe and non-intrusive outdoor shooting space, but so far without success.

If approved, the new facility will be located at the county’s Public Safety Training Facility just off Riverside Drive near Woodfin. The project, approved by Woodfin’s planning board on June 20, calls for a 35,000-square-foot building that will house shooting ranges of 25 and 100 meters, each for use by up to 12 shooters at a time, as well as classroom space and storage/support facilities, according to Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton. Also according to Creighton, detailed plans are slated to be presented in August and, with prompt approval, actual construction on the project could begin as early as this fall.

Creighton’s indication that the county is ready to move as soon as approval is received, however, seemed at odds with Commission Chairman David Gantt’s assessment of the situation. In a July 9 interview, Gantt indicated that all options were still on the table. “The problem is, we’re getting on towards fish or cut bait time. We not only have to provide a place where our own law officers can pass their annual tests or qualify, we’re committed to doing the same thing for students [enrolled in law enforcement studies] at A-B tech. They each have to log 48 hours of firearms practice.

“We’re a long way from drawing plans. If somebody were to come forward right now with a viable offer for an outdoor site, we’d certainly be delighted to entertain that – and we’ve already had two or three people express interest,” Gantt said.

But Sheriff Duncan said public input and recent experience has amply proven that “No community wants an outdoor firing range in Buncombe County.”

For several years, according to Duncan, county deputies were allowed to use a parcel of land on the Biltmore Estate free of charge; however, Biltmore Company officials have now indicated that property is earmarked for the estate’s expansion plans and is no longer available. Deputies now use a range in Madison County, more than twenty miles away. Likewise, Asheville police spokesman Sgt. Dave Romick said, city officers used to use property west of a runway at Asheville Regional Airport, but that arrangement eventually fell through because of the airport’s own expansion program. City police currently use the Western North Carolina Justice Academy’s firing range in Edneyville – also more than 20 miles away — Romick said.

“All that takes time and gas,” Gantt said. “It’s true that for the amount of money we’re talking about committing to this, you could buy a lot of gas, but you still have to look at logistics and the big picture.” Besides actual fuel costs, officers would have to be paid for travel time and reimbursed for expenses, and staff schedules would need to be adjusted to cover for personnel while they are away from duty, Duncan said.

At one point, the county thought it had succeeded in locating a range site south of Candler, surrounded by national forest land. But although the area is sparsely populated by humans, two trout streams run through it, and, according to Creighton, it became apparent that spent lead bullets in or near that water could lead to lead contamination, which would have meant the site would be disqualified under state environmental regulations. And a plan to install a range at the Public Safety Training Center in Woodfin raised strident noise and safety objections from local residents.

Indeed, as one outdoor location after another folded, local law enforcement were on the verge of becoming the Buncombe Ousted Outdoor Marksmen (BOOM).

Authorities also formerly made use of the indoor range at A-B Tech, but that facility already had problems with lead contamination and could not begin to accommodate the increased load that would be placed on it. Thus, officials say, the need for an up-to-date indoor shooting range became more and more apparent.

Still … ten million dollars?”

The consensus among county officials seems to be that things cost what they cost. Grading the site alone, they say, will cost at least $1 million. And in addition to routine construction costs, other safety and environmental requirements must be met – and paid for. Half a million will have to be spent on a required system to capture and remove methane gas from a former county landfill located near the site. An indoor firing range also demands special equipment such as an inside filtering system to cycle fresh air through the building, and another to dispose of spent ammunition, (Both processes are designed to counteract the possibility of lead contamination.) The A-B Tech experience in that regard was part of a learning curve, according to Duncan. “You’ve to got have everything exactly right. You can’t cut corners,” he said.

Still … ten million dollars?

“It’s hard selling a $10 million shooting range” to Buncombe taxpayers, Commission Vice Chairman Holly Jones said.

The shooting range project announcement comes on the heels of last month’s revelation that Commissioners had voted a total of $15.7 million dollars in incentives, including a land purchase and swap, new construction and tax benefits for General Electric Aviation’s expansion of its Unison facilities on Sweeten Creek Road.

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