A committee’s recommendations regarding short- and long-term operations at the Basalt gun range where the Lake Christine Fire originated last July will be revealed at a public meeting next week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials said.
Officials on Wednesday declined to provide details of those recommendations in advance of the gathering, which is set for 6 p.m. June 6 at Basalt High School. A central question involves the location of the decades-old range and whether it is appropriate for the area due to its proximity to the town and various residential developments.
The fire was sparked on July 3 and spread rapidly in a matter of days. It ended up scorching 12,588 acres of land just outside of the town of Basalt. While it originated at the range, it quickly spread toward the Missouri Heights community before turning back to Basalt Mountain.
Though the blaze destroyed three houses, the burn scar mostly covers public lands and backcountry. In the initial stage of the blaze, thousands of residents were forced to evacuate from their homes as the fire came dangerously close to residential areas.
Two young adults were deemed responsible for the fire after one of them shot tracer bullets from a rifle amid stage-two fire restrictions. They faced several felony charges and recently pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor through a plea agreement with the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Sentencing has been set for July 1 in Eagle County District Court.
A recent court filing put the overall cost of the fire at more than $25 million, with an estimated $20 million relating to firefighting efforts. The recommended sentence for defendants Richard Miller and Allison Marcus includes 45 days in jail, restitution of $100,000, 1,500 hours of community service and five years of probation.
The committee that was tasked by CPW to study gun-range issues and the potential closure and relocation of the shooting facility, which is located on state property, met over the last six months. Members include Stacey Craft, Larry Emery, Bill Kane, Rob Leavitt, Charles Spickert and George Trantow, all longtime citizens of Basalt. Two participants who were reached by phone on Wednesday declined comment, noting that they will meet for one last time on Monday to prepare for the June 6 gathering.
CPW created the task force in December in response to two contentious community meetings in August that pitted range-users and gun enthusiasts against residents who felt the shooting facility should be closed due to a variety of reasons, chiefly safety, environmental and noise issues. The range reopened in mid-September after officials recreated berms, removed natural fuels and installed fire-mitigation equipment on the site to make it safer.
Task force members sought the advice of experts, conducted extensive research and participated in vigorous debate as they formed their final recommendations, according to a CPW news release.
“We are very grateful to the citizens that volunteered and agreed to be a part of this, and thank them for their service to their community,” J.T. Romatzke, CPW northwest regional manager, said in a prepared statement. “We always believed local citizens coming together in an orderly, respectful manner would be an effective and responsible way to help us make determinations about the future of the range.”
Romatzke said the group functioned independently, with minimal oversight by CPW. He could not be reached Wednesday for further comment.
“The members took their mission very seriously,” he said in the statement. “Not everyone may agree with the findings and recommendations, but keep in mind that this was a thorough process and we urge everyone to respect that.”
Officials said the public will be allowed to ask questions and make comments at the June 6 meeting. However, Romatzke said the committee’s upcoming gathering is informational only and not designed to gather public input.
CPW staff will consider the committee’s suggestions when making future decisions regarding the gun range, area wildlife manager Matt Yamashita said. He also declined to offer details about the recommendations.
The range-location issue, however, will be part of the June 6 discussion.
“Based on that concern arising from the public, this group went through and evaluated all the pros and cons surrounding that topic,” Yamashita said Wednesday afternoon. “They spoke with different entities. I’m actually sitting down right now, putting together a presentation specific to that topic where they established a list of criteria on what would be required to accomplish something like that, what would be the consequences of doing something along those lines and then if that’s a suitable fix for the problem or if that just delays the problem and translates into something different elsewhere.”
The task force considered a vast amount of public input that was taken from the August community meetings at Basalt High School. Those meetings were dominated by gun-range enthusiasts who pleaded for the range to be reopened in time for the fall hunting season.