Gun range at Tarboo? The people say "Nope"

A public hearing about Joe D'amico's proposed 40-acre commercial shooting range and weapons-y training facility on Tarboo Ridge, took place at 6 p.m., Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, and filled to capacity Jefferson County Superior Court in Port Townsend, Washington, with 30 or more people listening via electronic speaker in the lobby. There were several chairs out there in the lobby too, behind the broken metal-detector that didn't work, just took up space like a silver and black plastic elephant. Sheriff Stanko stood in the door, in a blazer, polite as can be, while the deputy in green told people the room was full.

The hearing was on an ordinance establishing a 1-year moratorium for existing and new shooting facilities, and to create a citizen committee to develop new regulations on shooting facilities.

"The primary purpose of the moratorium is to protect public safety," Philip Morley, county administrator, said several times in his opening remarks. He seemed to imply that a military training facility would just help keep us all safe here in general not just good ole Jefferson County, in more ways than just by providing a place for people to shoot who would otherwise be doing target practice on road signs, deer, bicyclists, etc. But as I understand it, Fort Discovery isn't for the general public; it's for contracts with the military and cops and private security companies, like Security Systems Northwest, i.e. for training professionals, not for the general public.

D'amico has characterized those who oppose his company as "anti-war" or "anti-gun," but many who spoke Feb. 5 said they're not against guns.

It's a NIMBY situation; D'amico should go do his thing further away from people, from hundreds of acres of hard-won environmental conservation areas. Further inland are thousands of much emptier areas, places frankly less unique. Save the Tarboo; use up the boring desert. Open your training business somewhere else, far from quiet serene Pacific Northwest forestland where water runs downhill to Quilcene, on Hood Canal, where grow those really good oysters.

All due respect to complex, fragile, wild desert areas, but I think truly inland regions, hundreds of miles from residential areas, are far more suitable for commercial shooting ranges like Fort Discovery, or Cedar Ridge, OR  Security Systems Northwest, or whatever the name of this place is. If I could, I'd figure out a way to persuade D'amico to deed the land to the youth of the Brinnon, Quilcene, and Chimacum School Districts, and we'll call it the Fern Garden, and have plays and puppet shows and wonderful concerts, and play around in our boats on the lake, (no motors though), and have wonderful field trips and camping and sometimes have fires, packing in and packing out all our trash, making pemmican with deer we shot with arrows we made, gathering salal and salmonberries in baskets we wove from native blackberry vines, learning to climb trees with ropes, to identify birds by their songs, build treehouses and read books in the quiet canopy. Sigh. Alas, he has the money and power. I feel like a bag of old crayons up against a brand-new multi-color pack of Sharpie permanent markers.

So, the general attitude I gathered from the people around me at the public hearing in January was, "please please please, Lord, don't let there be this new noisy, dangerous, and lead-polluting facility at Tarboo, not there! Not there. Somewhere besides Tarboo, right in the middle of the place kids from three school districts have been planting trees together every year for ten years, and are so proud of their reforestation efforts, preserving riparian wildlife areas because the real rivers clean the water better than anything else, and clean water is great, and obviously gun noise harms local people and wildlife."

"Because commercial shooting facilities play such an important role in our society," Morley said, "We want to make sure that commercial shooting facilities have a viable place in our county for the long term." 

There's already a shooting range (not commercial) on county property. The Jefferson County Sportsmen's Association, located near the Port Townsend City limit, by the dump, is on county land, is run by volunteers and is open to all, unlike the commercial facility that D'amico wants to build, or maybe already is building.

In my memory as a listener-to of gossip D'amico's "Fort Discovery" was kicked out of Discovery Bay for not getting the right permits when his business grew from "security services" to "military training." D'amico is also notorious for undercutting the Discovery Bay Alliance, a network of neighbors interested in ecology or something, by hijacking their name, and creating a Facebook page or website or official nonprofit called Discovery Bay Alliance -- a strategic PR move worthy of a Bond villain in its devious brilliance. I've heard D'amico also has a phony Jefferson County WA Facebook page that many visitors think is actually produced by the county. Of course, Morley didn't mention this. He appears taken with the idea that counties need a certain number of gun ranges per person, like portapotties at a country music 'n hotdogs festival.

The county's population grew by 10 percent in 10 years, Morley said, and complaints about the existing Gun Club have increased recently, and "county commissioners have found that shooting facilities serve the public ... by allowing people a place to shoot," he said. The implication was that, with all the people in the county, we need more places to shoot.

The 9-member citizen committee will have a property owner or resident from each of the three county districts; a representative of the JC Sportsman's Association; a representative of tribal interests; an at-large county resident or property owner; the director of the Dept. of Community Development (or a representative thereof); the director of environmental health (or a rep), and the sheriff, Dave Stanko, who as I said, had posted himself at the courtroom door during the public hearing, not wearing any badge or identifier, just a little flag pin.

Public comment began with a youth, Pascal Sanek, who said her life would be negatively impacted by a gun range at Tarboo; they live nearby and use the lake. About 17 public-commenters later, her dad took the podium for his three minutes. Chris Sanek works at the PT Shipwrights Co-op, which he said "spends a lot of money worrying about lead pollution. ... apparently, we could just go dump it at Tarboo." But the shipwrights give a hoot, and don't pollute. The Port of Port Townsend, Sanek noted, "just spent $500,000" on a stormwater management system, which cleans the dirty shipyard stormwater to keep rain from rinsing pollutants into Admiralty Inlet. "There is a real threat that the stormwater won't be clean enough," he said, because the Port of PT could get shut down, costing hundreds or a thousand jobs directly, plus stripping our quaint Victorian seaport of its function as a destination for boat-sters, fishing-boat-sters, yacht-sters, sailors, as well as your garden-variety touristical oglers. "We're grateful to politicians that outlawed leaded gasoline" and reduced harmful pollution, Sanek said to the county commissioners. "This could be your opportunity to leave a legacy."

Peter Bahls of the Northwest Watershed Institute spoke of the significance of the habitat, and the conservation value of Tarboo, 3,000 acres, 600 restored, a $30 million investment, an allocation of $1.8 million from the county. "Our hope is that these efforts will help sustain the land and the economy," he said, both of which are "directly threatened by the proposal of seven firing ranges, two helicopter pads, and assorted buildings." D'amico's enterprise "would deflect recreation, and impact neighbors, and break treaties, and degrade the environment." He had people raise their hands if they support the moratorium, and most people raised hands; a brilliant move on Bahls's part, a wonderful, visual, incontrovertible demonstration that most people don't want this gun range here. He also had people stand up for what they supported, and, while I had to crane my neck to look into the room, it looked like maybe 10 percent of the people were actually supporting the gun range being there. Most people were clearly opposed to a gun range at Tarboo.

Lee Heron of the Concerts in the Barn in Quilcene said, "For 35 summers we held chamber concerts on our farm." God, those were cool! She advocated "preserving the peace and tranquility of where we have deliberately chosen to live." She supports gun ranges done in ways that don't conflict with neighbors, but putting one on Tarboo Ridge would conflict. "Humans, animals and the environment should not have to suffer in order to further a commercial enterprise" that doesn't benefit the local community and isn't necessary.

"The county should not approve any permits ... before conducting a comprehensive SEPA review," said Jude Rubin. She read an excerpt from Paul Campmeyer. She said doing things "piecemeal" will violate SEPA. She said Security Services Northwest is not correct when it says the moratorium doesn't apply to them.

SEPA is the State Environmental Policy Act, which requires all governmental agencies to consider environmental impacts of a proposal before making decisions.

Janet Welch of Nordland thanked the commissioners for instituting the ordinance establishing the moratorium. "I haven't found any guiding principles for the county," she said; part of the Unified Development Code (UDC) on outdoor shooting ranges was about small-scale tourism recreation, she said, but "I don't believe there is a category called commercial shooting ranges." She asked, "Is this ordinance comprehensive enough?" She's heard that at the end of the process would be new regulations, and then any new applicants would be subject to those, but would the "vested" application be included? Would the new regulations not even apply to D'amico? "Your ordinance really needs to cover both the use and the scale."

Keith Rasmussen of Chimacum, lifetime hunter and gun owner, is within range of being affected, he said. "Thank you for slowing things down" with the moratorium. "Our primary concern is noise. As a developer myself, I know the county does a great job ... ground water and septic are very tightly monitored, and to good effect." Noise is treated differently, although it does impact the neighbors, he said. "We do very fine-grained regulation on other" stuff, he said, seems the county could do an ordinance that's fine-grained enough. It made a fun image pop into my head of a gun-toting Chimacum cowboy saying "Regulate this!" and shooting his popguns into the air, pow pow! Then tripping over a recently planted native snowberry and falling into a rain garden.

Another Old Tarboo resident spoke, of veterans, PTSD, and supporting the moratorium, which he does, and crafting a solution for the whole community, not just one member. He's a beekeeper, and gun noise makes him agitated, which is transmitted to the bees. Less gun noise, more honey!

John Austin of PT said, the moratorium may represent another restriction of citizens' rights to operate a business. "Why can't the county allow a property owner to do what is legal on his or her property?" he asked. Because it impacts the neighbors. "A gun range, or a military training facility, impacts neighbors," he said. Are there incompatible activities in the area? he asked. Yes. If you move to a pastoral setting you expect quiet. "Sometimes it seems that a wealthy corporation or individual has the power to do as he wishes," he said. "So I encourage the county commission to continue the moratorium."

John Hamilton of Hadlock supported the moratorium, spoke of farms and cattle, the quality of peoples' lives. "We have approximately 22 shooting facilities within 50 miles of Jefferson County," he noted.

Larry Dennison of PT talked after Noah Frish played three minutes of loud annoying gunfire in a bird-filled forest on a recording on his phone, holding his phone up to the mic like a master millennial.

"That's gonna be a tough act to follow," said Dennison, the former barbecue-joint co-owner. "I definitely believe the moratorium is appropriate. All we need to do is look at the last year or so of complaints around the existing gun range." He's been around for 43 years, he said, but "I never found that it bothered me until a few years ago... There is a lot more activity." He agreed with John Austin, he said, "'if you want to locate a gun range in a residential area, the bar needs to be a bit higher.'"

Joel Kawahara of Quilcene spoke up for several small farms in Quilcene, saying the gun range is "incompatible with eco-tourism," and that he hopes the planning board considers the groundwater.

Patrick Sullivan of Port Townsend, representing Fort Discovery, spoke in opposition to the moratorium. "The only zoning" where gun ranges are allowed, he said, is in forestland, and "inholding forest parcels ... represent the most" isolated places in Jefferson County. "County officials have encouraged Mr. D'amico" to locate a facility in a forest, Sullivan said. The "surprise moratorium" will delay the process. "The county needs to protect and preserve shooting facilities," and state RCWs exempt legal discharge of firearms as a noise issue. "County ordinance cannot overrule state law," he said.

Tom Thiersh of PT said the county code does not address commercial shooting ranges. "The sportsman's club is certainly not small, not recreational," he said of the Jefferson County Sportsmen's Association, the nonprofit banging behind the Palindrome. "Good work, keep going," he said.

Tammy Pokorny of Dabob Road said, speaking as a private citizen, she appreciates the moratorium. Their farm raises livestock, "not in great numbers," since 2006. "I would like to share some of the EPA's best practices for lead and outdoor shooting ranges," she said. Much of the lead shot from bullets finds its way into the environment, at shooting ranges. Also, please remember to have the review committee consider explosives that don't meet the definition of a gun. And evaluate the potential impacts to the wildlife or persons. Also, what about the idea that it's 2018, and there's artificial intelligence. She suggested a virtual-reality range, where practicers don't shoot real guns, and real bullets be only used on rare occasions.

Diane Johnson of Tarboo Valley/ Dabob Road said the EPA calls lead pollution a serious environmental and health risk. She talked about water, soils, terrain, glacial till, clay, sand, and humus. Our county's valleys have underlying oddities of structure; it's "impossible to to tell from the surface how water is going to behave underground." She said, "shooting over or into wetlands should never occur."

Riley Parker of Quilcene, a few miles south of Tarboo Lake, has a 40 acre farm, is an Army and National Guard vet, and thanked us for listening to his testimony. Please consider, for public safety, professional assessments of how far bullets can stray from gun ranges, he said. An AR-15's max range is 1.6 miles, he said; a 30.06 can shoot 3 miles. Bullets will stray, for miles and miles. Also, on critical essential facilities, please consider the electricity distribution lines, high-voltage carriers of all the power to the Olympic Peninsula, he said. "High-voltage insulators have become favorite targets" for shooters, he said. "If damaged insulators fail, live transmission lines can fall to the ground."

Craig Overstreet of Sequim, "general counsel for Fort Discovery," said he supports the moratorium for a legal reason: there are flaws in the county ordinances, but it is an acknowledgement that there needs to be shooting ranges. "The core individual right of armed defense" includes the right to train and practice, he said. "There's one in the middle of Port Townsend!" he said of the "sportsmen's range" in PT. "This proposed facility is about as far away" as possible in Jefferson County, he said.

Heather McElvane said, "everyone else is probably more eloquent than I. ... we moved here because it's beautiful." It's "really a question of pollution and containment," she said. "I would hope that we could all be good citizens and take care of each other."

Alex Simus, Seattle lawyer representing the Tarboo coalition, said it's not true that this county can't regulate noise from firearms. "The county can continue to regulate noise," he said; "local jurisdictions can set provisions and restrictions to prevent noise from bothering neighbors." The 7th-circuit case didn't apply; it had more to do with a complete ban on firearms. "Kitsap's would be a good model," he said of operating permits for gun ranges. "If it ever fails, then its operating permit is revoked." Enforcement is difficult.

Mark Rose from Brinnon supports the moratorium. "I believe in property rights, but what we do on our property affects others. Habitat doesn't respect property lines, noise doesn't respect property lines." He mentioned SEPA. "It can't be piece by piece," he said. "Mr. Morley, who picks the volunteers?" The commissioners. Is it just arbitrary? "We're big supporters of the Northwest Watershed Institute. I echo everything Peter Bahls has said."

Jay Town of PT said, "I speak in support of shooting ranges in Port Townsend and Jefferson County. ... Shooting ranges are a fact of rural life." He said, "we've got onerous layers of permitting and onerous ranges of studies." He said, "What I see here is an attempt to put so many layers of studies and permitting as to make ranges not viable. ... I suggest you move to Marin County, California."

Another person had gathered 1,200 signatures on a petition in support of the moratorium. Negative impacts, property values. There was a long list.

George Yount said, "I appreciate that Mr. Stanko concurs: all commercial ranges should be inside soundproofed buildings." Gun ranges should be monitored audially, and all rounds fired would be charged a specific fee. "I think the onus is on the gun range owners to pay for that service," he said of 'Fort Discovery, SSSNW, whatever you call them." What, specifically, is in the plan, Yount asked. If it's 3rd-party training, with helicopters, the specifications of airspace  will have a major impact in the Tarboo area.

Scott Freeman talked, and then more people talked. People keep talking. People, keep talking.