Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said Friday that they toured the shooting range where the Lake Christine Fire originated and came away with a slightly better feeling about its reopening today.
Following several weeks of community debate, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced Thursday that it would reopen the gun range, which is located on state wildlife property, on Saturday at 10 a.m. The Basalt Town Council passed a resolution last month that basically states the range should be relocated in the long run and operated on a more limited basis than before the fire if reopened in the short term. The town has no jurisdiction over the range and the resolution was an attempt to influence CPW’s decision.
“CPW is clearly making a good-faith effort,” Whitsitt said. “They are addressing the safety issues primarily, but they are also working on the noise issues, and are going to continue that over the next six months.”
Whitsitt said Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson also was at the range Friday during the tour and that his presence helped to reinforce her belief the facility will be safer. Thompson could not be reached for comment Friday.
“The other thing that gave me good faith was that Scott Thompson was there, and he wasn’t taking any prisoners,” she said. “He was making clear what he thought they were doing well, the other things he needs them to do, and it was a very open and agreeable conversation.”
Mahoney said he thinks CPW officials went “a long way to address our concerns” about range safety and noise. The council’s resolution asked for a five-day-a-week schedule instead of seven; CPW said the range will be closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The resolution also recommended that a full-time CPW officer should staff the range during operating hours; CPW won’t be monitoring the range on a daily basis, but trained volunteers known as “resource safety officers” are being lined up to monitor activity.
“I think the [volunteers] who will be up there will be as cognizant of those breaking the rules as a [CPW officer would],” Mahoney said. “I think CPW listened. We didn’t get everything specifically that we asked for in the resolution, but it was a solution that addresses a number of things that we had asked for and that’s a positive outcome.”
CPW’s news release Thursday concerning the reopening says that technicians have been implementing several upgrades at the range in the wake of the fire, including the installation of fire extinguishers, improvements to the backstop and the permanent removal of vegetation and brush.
The facility will follow a five-day schedule for the time being. Range hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, “until further notice,” the release says.
CPW officials have admitted they were under a great deal of pressure from people on both sides of the controversy. At a Basalt council meeting last month, CPW northwest region manager J.T. Romatzke said the Basalt shooting range has always been a “contentious” facility. It was Romatzke’s decision to reopen the range or keep it shuttered.
In Thursday’s news release, Romatzke said the Lake Christine Fire was extremely unfortunate for the community and for CPW. “… I truly sympathize with those whose homes were threatened or destroyed,” he said. “I have looked at this from every angle, and I’ve spent countless hours analyzing the facts, emotions and stances of all involved.”
Range users — who showed up en masse at two community meetings last month at Basalt High School to urge that the range be reopened as quickly as possible — claimed they needed a safe facility to sight in their rifles in time for the fall hunting season. They warned that if the range were to be kept closed, hunters would go out into public lands to complete the task.
Basalt-area homeowners who advocated for relocation of the range and the need for new environmental and noise studies didn’t have huge numbers at those meetings, but voiced their opinions just the same. And they don’t seem to be quitting.
A group referring to itself Midvalley Residents is not giving up in its call for more reforms of the range and relocation. Mahoney said he received many emails Friday — basically a “form letter” — calling for the town remain vigilant.
In fact, the emails are originating from the website change.org following a call from Midvalley Residents to keep pressure on CPW and other local decision makers, such as Basalt’s elected leaders, who may still have a say in the future of the range. According to the page on change.org, “Keep the Basalt Shooting Range Closed” has 985 supporters.
“The Basalt Shooting Range is opening on Saturday,” the Midvalley Residents page says. “The CPW has once again disregarded the Basalt town government’s common-sense requests and is opening the range without a robust fire-suppression system, without a full-time uniformed CPW staffer to monitor the range, without a day of Sunday quiet, and without lead [toxicity] testing. If you think the CPW and the state must do better, please send your email right now, click the link.”
CPW’s news release suggests that conversations about range improvements and its long-term location will continue.
“To simply say ‘close the range or move it’ is not a fair or workable solution at the moment,” Romatzke said in his statement. “That said, I do want to make it clear that we intend to work on making it better going forward. We are confident we can, and will continue to make important improvements to address concerns.”
Whitsitt said Basalt officials and residents will stay on top of the issue.
“This isn’t the end of it,” Whitsitt said. “A lot of people are watching, and participating, so I think there’s going to be ongoing conversation [about the range]. But the safety issues, I think, are being pretty well addressed.”
Mahoney agreed. He noted that the resolution also recommends that if another location cannot be found in the long run, CPW should explore further mitigation measures related to safety, fire and environmental risks.
“The other thing to keep in mind is this is a temporary solution and we can take it even further. I think that CPW is committed to having designated groups investigate long-term solutions,” he said.
Mahoney said CPW has committed to maintaining fire breaks near the facility at least twice a year. Though no large-scale fire suppression system is in place, the fire extinguishers may help in an immediate way, if used at close range, he said.
“I can’t say its a safer range. But they are taking direction from [Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson] and they are up there moving a lot of dirt and really trying to get the range as safe as they can in this interim period,” he said.
The Lake Christine Fire, which was ignited by two individuals using tracer ammunition on the evening of July 3, scorched more than 12,000 acres of midvalley land and destroyed three houses. The alleged suspects face felony arson charges in Eagle County District Court.