South Dakota legislature: Shooting range bill moves ahead
Although landowners that border a proposed shooting range just outside of Rapid City, South Dakota, voiced concerns in the Senate Ag Committee meeting this week, a bill to fund the facility moves forward.
The Senate Ag Committee voted 5-2 to pass SB 175 onto the South Dakota Joint Committee on Appropriations. Voting in favor of keeping the bill alive were Senators Cammack, VJ Smith, Duvall, Klumb and Herman Otten. Frye-Mueller and Heinert voted against the motion to move the bill to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill appears to be an exact replica of HB 1049, which died in the House Ag Committee. Both bills request $2.5 million of general fund money to finance a shooting range north of Rapid City. The Game, Fish and Parks testified that it would match the $2.5 million appropriation, and would obtain donations and other moneys to pay for the project which they expect to cost a total of $5-7 million.
Joe Norman, a neighboring rancher, said he has a stake in the plans, as a 700 head operator whose family has ranched on that property since 1881.
“This is our livelihood,” he said, pointing out that he is not a paid lobbyist.
“I want the committee to sit back and a year from now when the gun range is done, you’ve been in Pierre all week, you’re tired of the phone ringing…you turn your phone off, your e-mail and you start to enjoy your Saturday. At 8:00 in the morning, gunfire starts…they have 175 pays in this project, so you could have 175 shooters at once. For eight hours…then another 8 hours potentially Sunday, maybe 11 hours. Welcome to living 3 miles from the gun range. I’m approximately 1.1 miles from the gun range,” he said.
“Safety is an issue,” said Norman.
“This should be in Pennington County,” he said, commenting on drastically larger number of deputies Pennington County employs.
Norman also testified that the land, currently not owned by the Game, Fish and Parks, was purchased by a non-profit corporation, at significantly more than market value.
“Thousands of acres are going to decrease in value,” said Norman, adding that “everyone is for a gun range, but they don’t want it in their backyard.”
The Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kevin Robling testified that safety features will protect neighbors. He said that the proposed shooting range would help protect area land that is being mistreated by those who are leaving trash such as old appliances and other garbage that is being used for target practice.
“Being a good neighbor is a top priority for me and this department,” said Robling. He talked about landowner outreach that has been conducted over the past couple of years.
The sound will travel further to the north east and east, he said, adding that berms and baffles will protect neighbors. Tree plantings are being discussed, said Robling.
Neighboring landowner Matt Kammerer is concerned about several aspects of the proposed shooting range including the safety of his family and livestock, fire, and soil erosion.
He points out that a section line transects the proposed shooting range, which the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks would like to build north of Rapid City, just inside the Meade County line. Kammerer said he uses the section line to move cattle to pasture. “They are trying to shut off access to my land,” said Kammerer.
“We have zero intentions of vacating a section line,” Robling said, adding they have asked the Meade County commission to relocate the section line.
Larry Reinhold, whose family operates Rainbow Bible Ranch located within a couple of miles of the proposed shooting range, raised concerns over the safety of their campers. He added that campers attend his camp for solitude and peace, and he believes this shooting range would greatly negatively impact this. He and others also criticized the Game, Fish and Parks’ lack of public relations. “I think there has been blatant disregard for the neighbors that live there,” he said. “There is a blatant disregard for an institution that has proven to be effective. Rainbow Bible Ranch. And we will be compromised,” he said.
While Robling insisted that his agency has been in communication with neighbors, Reinhold said communication has been minimal. “I have the opportunity to leave a legacy. There’s my legacy, as well as hundreds and thousands of kids all over this good United States of America…we’ve got to think of the neighbors. Maybe we need to calm the Game, Fish and Parks down a little bit on the overextension of power there,” said Reinhold.
Neighbors expressed concern over the wear and tear that the Elk Vale and other roads would experience, which would be the responsibility of Meade County to keep up, while many testifiers expect that Pennington County businesses (Rapid City area) would be more likely to benefit from the proposed shooting range since the range would be geographically much closer to Rapid City than Sturgis.
The GFP staff committed to help with the upkeep of the road, he said, and added that the agency doesn’t plan to negatively impact the environment.
The South Dakota Stockgrowers Association lobbyist said his organization opposes the proposal because it would constitute an increase in government land ownership, and also because the landowners have not been treated well by the Game, Fish and Parks, and are not on board with the plan.
James Bialota, a Rapid City resident for the last 20 years, says that he brought a business plan for a similar range to a Rapid City economic development committee, and his plans were met with little support. Bialota says it appears his idea was stolen. “We turned in plans for economic development. It appears they used them instead of protecting them,” he said. He said he has contacted an attorney. “We’re now looking at other states to move our business plan to,” he added.
Senator Gary Cammack, who voted to move the bill to the appropriations committee, said he plans to watch the matter closesly. “I’m hoping that the Game, Fish and Parks will make a super effort to mitigate the impact to adjacent landowners,” he said, adding that they have addressed many concerns already.
He said the Game, Fish and Parks has assured the legislature that runoff including lead won’t be a problem for the drainages in the area.
Cammack said he himself has land next to a different gun range and that his cattle don’t even pick up their head when they hear a gunshot.
“As long as the Game, Fish and Parks continues to communicate with the local landowners and come up with some ways to have minimal impact on local ranchers I believe I could support it,” said Cammack.
SB 75 (shooting range bill) referred to the Joint Committee on Appropriations
HB 1039 (to provide for the assessment of certain agricultural land as noncropland) passed House Ag Committee
HB 1096 (revise provisions regarding livestock identification) referred to House Ag Committee
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