Shooting range up in the air

Jacob Lane · Tuesday, July 18, 2017
The Muscatine County Zoning Commission tabled a request for a new county shooting range Thursday, July 13, after heated debate.

The Muscatine County Conservation Board has proposed a 200 yard shooting range for Muscatine County, to be located six miles southeast of West Liberty in Pike Township.

However, property owners near the proposed site are not happy.

“I’m not for the shooting range at all because I do like the wildlife,” said Dorothy Phelps, “My heart breaks for my neighbors… I just can’t imagine what it’s going to do to that property.

Phelps, her daughter Faye Petersen and family own 150 acres of land just west of the proposed building location. The range would fall just within the West Liberty Community School District.

They were not alone in their protest against the shooting range, more than 15 individuals, including nearby property owners, spoke out during the two hour meeting.

“I brought my check book today, I’m willing to buy the ground so you can take that money and find a better spot,” said Jesse Shield. “I’m not against guns, I just don’t want it aimed at me.”

Shield owns property just northeast of the proposed range. The West Liberty community member was incredibly vocal about his opposition, as were several others.

Their concerns included poor fencing that would easily allow in intruders, lead getting in the water from ammunition during flooding, accidental misfires and drops in property value.

Above all, neighbors were against the noise that would be brought on by the firing of guns, big or small, especially since the proposed hours were every day, 7 a.m. to sun down.

The original proposal, submitted June 8, 2017, is to build the gun range on a parcel of land given to Muscatine County by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after flooding in 2008.

The 200 yard $150,000 range would have 10-foot high berms on the sides and a 20-foot high berm at the end. It’s surround by private property and public hunting grounds.

According to the conservation board, the range and its berms would be aimed to the east, the nearest resident down range would be 2.8 miles away (To clarify, there are several residents that live much closer, they’re just not “down range”).

However, because the proposed site is within a flood plane, FEMA regulations stipulate no permanent structures can be built on the property. The berm material must be taken from the site, no outside dirt.

The same proposal states the range would be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to sunset. There would be no permanent employees, upkeep would be through employees of Muscatine Conservation.

According to Curt Weiss, Director of the Muscatine County Conservation Board, there’s a need in Muscatine County for a public shooting range, a need that’s been there for 15 years.

It was around 15 years ago that the county made target shooting illegal on any public, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or County Conservation area, for safety.

“We’ve had trouble over the years trying to find an area in Muscatine County that was suitable, I know there’s a lot of areas out there, but we’re looking at an area the county already owns,” he told the crowd.

It’s true that building the range on county land significantly drops its price.

Then there’s also the question of the West Liberty Gun Club, which already has shooting ranges in the county.

“West Liberty had a fire a few years ago and so we have not been able to take our hunters-ed classes up there anymore, so we’re looking at a new place,” added Weiss.

The West Liberty Gun Club uses 13-15 acres of land on the southwest edge of West Liberty. Unfortunately, on Jan. 21, 2013, a fire burned down the main building.

The building that burned down included the clubhouse, offices, kitchen and restrooms. However, the only shooting range that was lost was the indoor range.

To this day the club has a 100-yard outdoor shooting range, six individual pistol ranges that vary between 25- to 35-yards and a steel pistol bay according to its Chief Range Officer Steve Rundall.

The range allows most weapons that are within the legal confines of the United States, except the 50 cal. BMG which would tear up its berms.

The West Liberty Gun Club is a private club which is always accepting new members, while Muscatine County is proposing a public club.

Also, as mentioned before, the county is proposing a 200 yard range, while the West Liberty Club maxes out at a 100 yard range.

The back and forth went on for several hours during the meeting on Thursday. Scott Lucas was the first to speak in favor of the gun range. He was met by applause after he concluded.

“We own the property directly across the river in the direction the shooting range will be pointed and I am in for the shooting range,” he said.

“We’ve owned that property for seven years and there’s people shooting year-round down there now,” he said. “I believe that a shooting range would make things safer, because there’s people shooting every direction down there right now.”

In fact, the need for a shooting range was hardly disputed.

According to Sheriff C.J. Ryan, also present at the meeting, the sheriff’s department uses private property for shooting right now. They could benefit from a county range.

“Currently we are taking a group full of kids about 45 minutes up to bi-state, because that’s the only facility we have now available that I know of,” said Adam Axtell, Coach of the Wilton Trap team.

“In Muscatine County there’s hardly anything unless you can go on a person’s property to shoot,” said Tom Briggs of Fuitland, “The general public needs to have something to go shoot at.”

However, opponents of the range repeatedly brought up the point that few in favor of the range lived anywhere near it.

That included Wesley Drayfahl, who lives within 1,500 feet of the proposed area. He spoke out against the noise and how it would disturb the peace of his country residence.

“We’re neighbors, [but] we got to put up with it,” he told the zoning board. “Why not put a sign in every one of your yards saying ‘Gun range in my backyard, come shoot all you want.’”

Opposition also included William “Bill” Phillips, who lives closest to the proposed building area.

“I’ve worked a seven-day swing shift for 30 years,” he said. “I built back away where it’s quiet and now they’re contemplating putting a shooting gallery back there.

“I’m not against guns, I spent seven years in the military so I know what guns are,” he added. “I just don’t want all that confusion out there, I’m right next to it.”

Ultimately the zoning board, which had four members present including Clyde Evans, Emily Geertz, Carol Schlueter and Chairperson Tom Harper, voted in favor of tabling the request for more information.

They asked Director Curt Weiss and the Muscatine County Conservation Board to come back with more information. Community feedback caused them to have their own concerns about the location.

The zoning board, which usually has five members, advises on the growth of the county to the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors, including subdivisions, zoning requests, public property use and long range planning.

And so, while the range wasn’t officially approved for recommendation, a final decision has yet to go one way or the other.
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