Gun range likely a go: South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks says Meade Co shooting range will happen regardless of SB 175
South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks to build a shooting range in Meade County
With or without the $2.5 million in state general fund money that the Game, Fish and Parks seeks through legislation, the proposed shooting range in Meade County will be built, says South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks secretary Kevin Robling.
In the House Appropriations Committee discussion on March 3, 2022, SD GFP Secretary Kevin Robling, responded to questions about whether or not the shooting range is expected to go ahead even if SB 175, a bill seeking $2.5 million in general fund money, doesn’t pass. “The proposed range would look different if this bill were to fail,” said Robling, but he added that the agency is going to follow steps to ensure that the process “is completed.”
The House Appropriations Committee voted 7-2 to defer the bill to the 41st day which effectively kills the bill. However, Representative Chase, on the House Floor, called for support to “smoke out” the bill which means that 24 House members stand in support of overriding the committee and bringing the issue to the floor. The bill was smoked out, and will be discussed on the House floor Monday, March 7, 2022.
Elizabeth May, a representative from Kyle, South Dakota, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee said that this issue has been ongoing for years, and she said the SD GFP is the only agency that doesn’t need to have approval from the elected appropriators before making a large purchase like this. She believes the shooting range will be built, with or without the general fund money sought in SB 175. “We’ve got a Game, Fish and Parks Commission that isn’t elected. They are appointed. The citizens are not being represented by the people they elect. They just aren’t. I don’t think it’s too much for them to ask to bring it in front of elected officials to do get approval for these purchases.”
Several proponents testified that the shooting range would bring an economic boost to the Rapid City area and would create a “world class” shooting range in Western South Dakota which would attract shooters from all across the state and from neighboring states.
Robling said other states are considering similar gun ranges. SD GFP plans to use Pittman Robertson funds which are federal tax dollars on guns and ammunition which are returned to states to be used for the selection, restoration, and improvement of wildlife habitat and for wildlife management research.
Robling said about 80 percent of Pittman Robertson dollars are now coming from recreational shooters, not necessarily hunters. Interest in recreational shooting has increased dramatically in recent years, he said.
“I have conversations with directors across the US trying to do something like this. Participation rates in shooting sports have skyrocketed,” he said.
“I could see state events, state 4-H events, that’s what we envision with this project. I could see people from every district in the state,” he said.
Robling said the proposed range would be located about 10 miles north of interstate 90, off Elk Vale Road, located in Meade County.
The gun range is expected to have 175 shooting bays, shotgun and archery options, a huntsafe building for education, and more on the south end which will be “free and open to the public.” The north end of the range is designed to accommodate law enforcement training needs, said Robling.
Representative Gross commented that it seems unlikely that just 2 employees could handle all the work associated with this complex. Robling responded that they expect many volunteers to help with staffing needs.
Robling said the hours of operation are probably going to be 8:30 am to 7:30 pm in the summer and 8:30 am to sunset from September to April.
The SD GFP expects about 30-35 vehicles per day on average, with about 15,000 visitors per year.
They think maintenance costs will be about $235,000 annually, and the entire project is expected to cost about $12.5 million or more, which would be compiled from $2.5 million in general fund money (if SB 175 passes) $2.5 million in Pittman Robertson funds and $7.5 million in donations.
If the state doesn’t kick in general fund money, more donations will be needed.
SD GFP told TSLN, “The idea originated from the Department of Game, Fish and Parks (GFP); with discussions beginning in early 2019. GFP has shown we can be a good partner and neighbor for these types of projects, which offer several benefits to both residents and our visitors.”
“Prior to pursuing our layout plans and ideas, our agency reached out to the Manager of the CAMEO Shooting Complex in Colorado for guidance and BMP for ranges. GFP also created a stakeholder group that consisted of sportsmen and women who have a vast knowledge of the shooting sports to help guide the range plans.”
In response to our question about landowner relations, GFP said,
“GFP will use berming, baffling and other safety features as necessary to ensure a bullet does not leave the range and cause any danger to our neighbors. GFP has a track record of being a good neighbor with the many thousands of acres we own across the state.
“Furthermore, GFP is conducting an environmental assessment that will dictate what the department must do to mitigate potential lead contamination or any other environmental issue identified.”
“The construction site is primarily made up of clay soils. Clay soils bind to free lead well and will greatly reduce lead contamination in stormwater runoff from the range sites. GFP will use plants to stabilize contaminated soils or sediments, thus protecting them from transport by wind or water erosion. GFP will use grading, pre-detention areas, ground contouring, water sediment traps, dams and dikes as needed to ensure that stormwater runoff from the range sites does not leave the property.
“GFP operates a number of ranges around the state and has a great track record of safely building and operating ranges in urban and rural areas.”
Neighbors to the proposed gun range including Joe Norman, Riley Kammerer, Matt Kammerer, Tyler Woods, and other voiced concern in the committee about noise, safety, access, wear and tear on rural roads, and more.
“I’m a sixth generation rancher,” said Riley Kammerer who also said he is a 4-H shooting sports pistol and rifle instructor, who does not oppose shooting ranges. Riley said a shooting range would ruin “our peaceful valley,” and refuted Robling’s claim that gunshots are rarely heard beyond 2 miles.
As a volunteer firefighter and neighboring rancher, Riley is concerned about fire danger and said he hasn’t seen much from GFP as far as fire mitigation plans.
Joe Norman who says he is the closest landowner to the west testified in committee that his home is 1.1 miles from the proposed shooting range. Norman pointed out that another neighbor just built a home about a half mile from the shooting range, with no knowledge that the shooting range was in the works.
Norman and the other neighboring ranchers who testified expressed frustration over a lack of communication from the SD GFP.
He talked about a bridge that he expects would need to be replaced if traffic were to increase on the rural road, and commented on the cost of moving dirt just to ready the gun range site. Jim Scull, of Rapid City, who testified that he helped secure the land purchase that will eventually become the shooting range, is also a contractor. He said the dirt work is likely to cost over $1 million.
South Dakota GFP told TSLN that the land is currently owned by The South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation. Robling, in testimony, said that a the GFP Commission was expected to finalize the purchase of the land from the foundation on March 4.
Tyler Woods, a neighbor, testified that the foundation paid $2,250 per acre for the land even though land “across the road” from the property recently sold for $980 per acre. “If they are paying so much over market value, why do they need general funds or state funds, period?”
Woods also pointed out that the Game, Fish and Parks owns a shooting range near Hot Springs, South Dakota.
Diane Norman, Joe’s wife, told TSLN that native American artifacts have been identified on the shooting range site.
Representative Mills asked Joe Norman what his biggest concerns are. “Safety is a tremendous concern,” he said. “Crime is going to get horrible, it’s already bad,” he said that there there is a 45 minute wait for a deputy out of Sturgis. “My wife is home alone tonight. Let’s say someone has stopped for a beverage and they get out to the range. The gate is locked. The fence is a wire fence – they’ll cut the wire and drive in.”
He pointed out that Rapid City (Pennington County) is expected to financially benefit from the range, while Meade County will be strapped with expenses such as road upkeep and police protection if needed.
“I want you to vote as if you live within 1.1 miles of a 175 bay shooting range, and I want you to vote today as thought you’ve not been threatened to vote yes. Please vote no,” said Norman.
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