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Shooting range’s fate unclear as public discussion unfolds

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The fate of the Basalt Public Shooting Range is still undecided as state officials, local representatives, and members of the public continue to grapple with the many questions left smoldering in the aftermath of the Lake Christine Fire.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) held the second of two professionally facilitated public forums Monday evening at Basalt High School. Though officials continued to stress the importance of input, dialogue, and communal problem solving, it remains to be seen how two seemingly opposite positions – closing the existing range and moving it elsewhere versus reopening the range, with or without stipulations – can reach reconciliation.

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The Basalt Town Council passed a resolution to recommend to CPW (which will ultimately make the decision about the range) to implement a conditional short-term reopening, but to answer within six months whether the range can be relocated (the council’s preference) or reopened with a list of requests mostly focused on safety.

“I’m pleading for your grace and some patience as we work through this,” said JT Romatzke, CPW’s Northwest Regional Manager, to the crowd Monday night. He reiterated the same message while addressing the town council Tuesday. He expressed frustration that the council had already prepared a draft resolution before the conclusion of Monday’s forum, let alone with enough time to synthesize all the many sticky note suggestions collected from the audience. “I haven’t even gotten through the second meeting yet…and we have a town voting for a resolution,” he said. Romatzke again emphasized the importance of information-gathering and conversation before rushing to conclusions during the council meeting.

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Bill Infante, a Basalt town councilperson, said the town is seeking a solution as quickly as possible. “The drafting of a resolution was not meant to front run the process,” he told the audience. “It was meant to expedite the solution because hunting season begins on Sept. 1.” He said he has been diligently reaching out to owners of closed landfill sites, decommissioned quarries, and other parcels that might be a suitable location for a new range, but without luck. “We want to reopen the range when it’s appropriate,” he said.

According to Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney, that possibility may present itself as early as Friday when, he said, the Stage II Fire Restrictions will likely be lifted. That change would allow CPW to reopen the range. The Basalt Town Council acknowledged with its resolution that there is a legitimate need for hunters to sight their rifles in preparation for hunting season, and that to allow them to do so in a relatively safe, contained environment was preferable to open shooting on public land, a happenstance that area wildlife manager Perry Will said has already been reported to his office. The council recommended the range’s temporary re-opening so long as fire suppression measures are strictly adhered to and a CPW employee is on site during open hours, among other considerations.

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But council was wary of returning to “business as usual” and having its recommendation for a short-term reopening blend into a complacent return to the pre-fire operation. Councilperson Katie Schwoerer was especially outspoken on this point. She recommended that the draft resolution’s original time frame of 12-18 months be shortened to six months, a change that was implemented in the final resolution. She emphasized that while she would be all right with waiting for a year or more to find the best solution, she did not want to see the range operating for more than six months without sincerely addressing council’s concerns. She felt there was danger that the region’s collective memory about the fire would fade come winter, and that the inertia of reopening would discourage any painful or costly efforts to relocate.

Many citizens spoke in favor of opening the gun range as soon as possible, both at the CPW meeting and during the comment period to Town Council. They cited the long-ranging safety record of the range, its importance to the hunting and sporting community, and acquiescence to implement more rigid safety and fire mitigation standards as key reasons for allowing the range to reopen as soon as possible and potentially to remain in Basalt.

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“We can all agree that safety is the primary concern,” said Larry Emery, president of the Roaring Fork Valley Sportsmen Association. “Continued closure of the Lake Christine range will in fact create the behavior we all wish to avoid,” he said.

State Senator Kerry Donovan was present Monday evening. She said she has been inundated with phone calls and emails and was there to ensure that her constituents’ voices were being heard. She said she was pleased to see the communal discourse unfolding. “It’s inspiring to see people willing to come and openly and honestly find a solution for a community when it’s such an important issue,” she said.

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It is likely that more discussion and debate will occur before a solution is reached. “As people bring forward ideas for recommendations, they have to be implementable,” said CPW Director Bob Broscheid, who made the trip from Denver. “Opinions are good, we value opinions, but they have to be ‘legit’… Shooting ranges are very controversial, socially complex. And as urbanization continues these discussions are going to continue,” he said.

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