Game Fish and Parks and the special interests pushing the Rapid City shooting range scored a bullseye yesterday, keeping their pistol playground alive in its second Legislative incarnation. After seeing their first bill, House Bill 1049, shot down in committee a couple weeks ago by impassioned testimony from neighboring ranchers, the Stockgrowers Association, and nice Christian girl who likes to ride horses but not under a hail of gunfire, gunplayers packed Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Thursday hearing on Senate Bill 175 with 26 proponent testifiers, more than tripling the turnout they mustered for the previous bill.
Even with all that manpower, the big shooters couldn’t win a straight “Do Pass” from the committee. The initial motion from Senator Troy Heinert (D-26/Mission) and seconded by Senator Julie Frye-Mueller (R-30/Rapid City) was to kill the emergency $5M funding proposal. But Senator Herman Otten (R-6/Lennox) immediately substituted a motion to dodge responsibility for this contentious project and refer SB 175 to Joint Appropriations. Sending the Sb 175 to the budget committee is perhaps the best chance Game Fish and Parks and the Governor have to keep this project alive: the appropriators can slip this project into the budget adjustments bill for the current fiscal year or the general appropriations for FY2023 and thus insulate the proposal from opposition, as a majority of legislators will never block the entire state budget over one disputed $12M project. The motion to give Appropriations the chance to logroll SB 175 passed 5–2, with Heinert and Frye-Mueller opposed but Republicans Cammack, Duvall, Klumb, Otten, and Smith in favor.
Joining the opponents at the mic this time in committee was Nancy Hilding fo the Prairie Hills Audubon Society. After listening to all the other speakers for an hour and 25 minutes, the committee told Hilding she had ten seconds to speak. Hilding nonetheless managed to keep the Zoom floor for a couple minutes to summarize her five-page argument that it is premature for the state to approve and fund this project before the necessary environmental impact study has been done. Hilding notes that by asking for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funding, Game Fish and Parks has triggered the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires an environmental assessment be drafted and posted for public comment, followed by USFWS review and official findings. Hilding backs the alarm neighboring ranchers have raised about lead pollution from spent ammunition on the site by noting that siting a gun range on sloping terrain like the targeted 400 acres on Elk Vale Road violates the EPA’s “Best Management Practices for Lead at Outdoor Shooting Ranges,” which recommend that, “If possible, ranges should be developed on flat terrain, as it facilitates reclamation and reduces the change of off-site migration due to surface water runoff as compared with highly sloped terrain.” Hilding also cites noise pollution, disturbance of wildlife, fire risk, and stray bullets as environmental impacts that warrant waiting for a proper environmental assessment before throwing money at this high-caliber playground.
But we may not get a chance to address these arguments and the merits of the shooting range directly again, as Senate Bill 175 may disappear into the great mulligan stew of the overall budget.