The Meade County Commission may not have sent its letter of protest to Governor Kristi Noem against her proposed Rapid City shooting range, but it appears to have taken a full-court press from state officials and local economic developers and shooting enthusiasts to wave off that protest.
In the only press account I can find yet of last Tuesday’s Meade County Commission meeting, KNBN reports that the commission sent the letter expressing concerns about public safety, wear and tear on Elk Vale Road, and loss of property tax revenue. However, the draft December 21 meeting minutes (available through BoardDocs) do not indicate that the board took any action on the letter. The minutes do indicate that the Game Fish & Parks Department sent three officials—project expert and Terrestrial Section Chief John Kanta, Director of Wildlife Tom Kirschernmann, and Western Regional Supervisor Mike Koslowski—to assuage concerns about safety and public costs at the shooting range.
According to the minutes, Kirschenmann said the state will be responsible for paying property taxes to the county. Kirschenmann said the shooting range will improve public safety by drawing gun enthusiasts away from random shooting sites on public land to this nicely designed and regulated facility. And he invited the Meade County highway department to review the plan and discuss their concerns for road maintenance with the state.
Kanta told the commission that Game Fish and Parks is working on an environmental impact study to submit to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Agriculture (and Natural Resources). Paul Vinatieri of the Dacotah Chapter of the Safari Club International said his club members will be happy to pick up lead shot from the shooting range to make money for the club and keep lead out of the water. Rapid City developer Jim Scull, one of the driving forces behind the shooting range, told the commission that letting kids play with guns is essential to the mentorship program he runs.
Amanda Anglin from the Sturgis Economic Development Corporation and Tom Johnson of Elevate Rapid City both came to the meeting. While Anglin said her board hadn’t discussed the project yet, Johnson said there are jobs and money to be made for Meade and Pennington County from the shooting range. Johnson also said his economic development group will come work with Meade County more closely on future projects. Maker of camouflage holsters and other high-end shooting sports gear King Cavalier said he’s hearing interest from out-of-state customers in the proposed range.
Neighboring ranchers expressed their ongoing concerns about the project. Rancher Tyler Woods says he doesn’t want to have restrict his cattle from grazing on pasture north of the shooting range. Marvin Kammerer, who lives south of the site, praised the draft protest letter as “courageous” and noted that the targeted site is the only place in the area that he has seen whopping cranes. Kammerer’s rancher son Matt, whose land abuts the project site, expressed concern about lead runoff could poison the Elk Creek watershed. Sixth-generation rancher and grassland enthusiast Riley Kammerer said he worries that the constant noise of gunshots cracking across the open plains will lower property values. He acknowledged that the state will probably build the project no matter what, but he asked officials to at least look into lowering the speed limit and putting up flashing signs to warn all the new motorists to ease up on the gas in residential areas.
Tellingly, Commissioner Ted Seaman said the Meade County Commission will not stop the project whether they are in favor of it or not. Meade County Commissioners Doreen Creed and Talbot Wieczorek both said the county can’t do much to stop the project since Meade County has no zoning ordinances. Audubon Society leader Nancy Hilding said regulating the environmental impacts of the shooting range isn’t a zoning issue and reiterated concerns about discharged lead getting into the water.
Kanta told the commission that Game Fish and Parks is inviting neighbors of the range site and other interested parties for a question-and-answer session at the private residence of rancher and Marty Jackley pal Joe Norman on Monday, January 3, at 1:30 p.m. Hilding warned that crowding people into a private residence for this meeting could spread coronavirus.
The final notes in the minutes on this item indicate that Commissioner Creed polled the audience and got more hands raised in favor of the range than opposed. The minutes indicate no formal motion or vote on the draft protest letter.
For the record, here are the complete draft minutes on the shooting range agenda item, as posted last week by the Meade County Commission:
SD Game, Fish, and Parks – Shooting Range
Seaman stated he received a message from South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks (GFP) today and invited the GFP representatives in attendance to speak first. Wieczorek stated that there has been no vote on what the County plans to do, but that there was a question on the road issue that previously came up. He stated he had not seen the draft letter to the Governor until the letter was posted publicly. The GFP representatives introduced themselves as Director of Wildlife Tom Kirschenmann, Terrestrial Section Chief John Kanta, and Western Regional Supervisor Mike Klosowski.
Kirschenmann stated that, after review of statute governing taxes paid on “public shooting areas,” which is generally a title applied to game production areas but appears to fit the description of the proposed shooting range as well, it appears that the State will be responsible for paying taxes on the property. It will not be exempt.
Kirschenmann stated they are open to discussion of road concerns in the area and want to work with the County as a partner. They invited the highway department to review their plan and discuss any concerns or alternate perspectives regarding the road. Seaman directed them to discuss the matter with Highway Superintendent Nick Broyles after the conclusion of the meeting.
Kirschenmann also stated that their primary concern is site safety, and they feel that having a designated shooting range will help address safety concerns so that there are fewer random shooting sites on public land. Kirschenmann asked Kanta to elaborate more on their planned safety measures. Kanta stated it will have designated rules and operating hours, as well as security, surveillance, and locked gates after hours. They intend to patrol the area and have at least one full-time staffer and seasonal staff to monitor the area. Kanta stated he understands the fear of burdening the Meade County Sheriff’s Office, but assured the Board they have a good track record of working with local law enforcement. Kanta also stated that they are looking for law enforcement partners to use the area for training, but would offer the range use to the Meade County Sheriff’s Office free of charge.
They also have discussed being conscientious of local large events like the Sturgis Rally when planning other large events at the proposed shooting range. Kanta explained that engineers are consulted to determine where a bullet could land and how to best use land positioning, berms, and baffling to mitigate hazards. He noted that not all kinds of ammunition will be permitted on site to not pose an additional safety hazard.
Seaman brought up the planned meeting with neighbors, which Kanta clarified will be at 1:30pm on January 3rd at Joe Norman’s residence. They are inviting others to attend and offered to be present to answer questions whenever the Board requests.
Commissioner Liggett asked about the environmental assessment being done. Kanta stated it is not done yet but will soon be ready to be sent to the US Fish and Wildlife service for review. From there it will go to public comment. It will also need to be approved by the SD Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the County and receive a 404 Permit due to the presence of wetland area. There was discussion on the noise and dust issues which landowners have brought up. Kanta stated they plan to bring in vegetative barriers as an attractive noise dampener.
There was discussion on when the shooting range would be open. GFP is hoping to have a grand opening in late fall of 2022, and plan to have seasonal hours intended to minimize traffic conflict. They intend for events to be on a reservation basis so they can ensure that large scheduled events do not coincide with other events.
There was discussion on the nature of events and competitions that GFP intends to bring to the shooting range and its intended economic impact. Kanta stated they have not finished reaching out to economic development partners but fully intend to. Commissioner Bradley asked why they settled on the name Rapid City Shooting Range and was informed that they originally planned to build closer to Rapid City. Moving forward, they intend to change the name to reflect one of the large donors who have contributed to the.
Seaman clarified that the Board will not stop the project whether or not they are in favor of it, and that they have had calls both in support and against the range. Kanta agreed that he does not want to tell the County there is nothing they can do, but that the State intends to move forward. Wieczorek reiterated that they are hamstrung by not having zoning, but that they do have control over the roads, so he wants to see examples of how GFP has collaborated with counties in the past specifically regarding roads.
Seaman opened the floor to public comment. Tyler Woods, who owns the land directly north of the property, asked about the safety of his livestock and stated that he needs his cattle to be able to graze his full acreage to have full use of his land. He requested more information regarding safety for surrounding livestock and their plan in case of a grass fire. Woods also had concerns on possible lead runoff and the use of the manmade wetland as nesting habitat for waterfowl.
Nancy Hilding from the Prairie Hills Audubon Society also had comments. She asked when the environmental assessment would be done and if federal funding was being used, and echoed concerns of possible lead contamination in the Elk Creek watershed from runoff. She is concerned that the terrain on the property is too steep for lead reclamation to be successful. Creed stated that they have limited paths forward due to not having zoning in the County. Hilding said that this is a separate issue form zoning, and voiced concerns regarding possible spread of the Covid-19 virus at the January 3rd meeting.
Amanda Anglin from the Sturgis economic Development Corp stated that they are aware of the range but have not discussed it as a board. Wieczorek recommended they talk with GFP about possible economic benefit. Tom Johnson of Elevate Rapid City gave comments on how they believe the range will affect the area. He stated that they have recruited firearm-related business in the past because it is a cluster industry for the region. The market impact study was indicative of adding around $3 million in sales and many jobs and tax dollars to the Rapid City metropolitan statistical area, which encompasses both Pennington and Meade Counties. He stated they cannot predict whether this will occur in Meade or Pennington Counties primarily, but they are confident it will affect both. Johnson stated they intend to work more closely with Meade County in the future, and believes that as the population grows, more land use and zoning issues will surface.
Marvin Kammerer was present to comment. He praised the draft letter (calling it courageous) to the Governor and stated that the stock pond on the proposed range site is the only place in the area he had seen whooping cranes in the past.
Dennis Jorgenson was also present to comment. He stated he is in support of the facility because he believes that being active in shooting sports is beneficial to young people, especially those which are not able to pursue other sports. He mentioned that many colleges offer scholarships for shooting sports. King Cavalier of King of the Mountain also commented in support of the range. He stated it will provide a safe, world-class educational and competitive facility, and that people other states have contacted him about it.
Jim Scull also commented in favor of the shooting range. He stated he has had a hard time finding a safe, adequate facility for kids in his mentorship program to learn to shoot from, but that shooting sports are their favorite reason to stay engaged in the program.
Matt Kammerer, whose land borders the proposed shooting range, stated that he respects shooting sports but is concerned about lead runoff and possible poisoning in the Elk Creek watershed. He requested that they contact the EPA for more information before asking for money for the project.
Paul Vinatieri commented that, when he was the president of the Trap Club, they mined lead from the ground to make money for the club. He said they should be able to do the same at this facility despite the terrain, both as an income source and to keep lead out of the water. As the vice-president of the Greater Dacotah Chapter of the Safari Club International, he also pledged a donation and the support of their 150-person membership.
Riley Kammerer, who lives two miles away on Elk Vale Road, also commented that he generally disagrees with the project despite being a certified shooting instructor. He stated that he can hear every rifle shot for miles around. He is concerned that it will decrease their property value but stated that he is aware it is likely to be built anyway. He had concerns regarding possible safety issues as a first responder with the North Haines Volunteer Fire Department. He also had concerns with speeding and unsafe driving on Elk Vale Road and requested that the speed limit be lowered and flashing residential area signs be installed to increase safety. Liggett stated that he is welcome to call any time to further discuss any traffic safety concerns.
Before moving on from the agenda item, Creed asked for a show of hands representing those in favor and those against the shooting range. More attendees appeared to be in support of the range [Meade County Commission, draft minutes for December 21, 2021, meeting, retrieved from BoardDocs 2021.12.27].