Representatives of Basalt town government, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and a private gun club met at the Basalt library today in a closed-door meeting about the future of the shooting range where the Lake Christine Fire started on July 3.
The focus of the 1 p.m. meeting was to lay the groundwork for future community meetings on the gun range, according to CPW spokesman Mike Porras. CPW organized the meeting since it owns and manages the facility on state property.
The head of the Roaring Fork Valley Sportsman’s Association, Phil Easterly of Old Snowmass, was allowed to attend the meeting — which lasted a little over two hours — because the gun club has a long-term lease at the gun range, Porras said. The association operates a private skeet, trap and five-stand shotgun range at the site. The public was allowed to use that part of the range three days a week, and the other half, comprised of areas for pistols, rifles and shotguns, was open to the public seven days a week until CPW shut the entire facility down amid the fire.
“The [association] has a 25-year lease. They are stakeholders, and they have a vested interest in the range,” said CPW area wildlife manager Perry Will.
Many residents of the midvalley want to see the shooting range closed or relocated. The month-old fire, as of noon Friday, had burned 12,588 acres and was 90 percent contained.
Before Friday’s discussion involving the numerous officials and agencies, a group of residents asked if they could attend the meeting and provide input. They were denied access to the library’s community room, where the discussion was held.
Stacey Craft, one of four people who sought to attend the meeting, said she and others are circulating a petition on change.org that asks officials to close the range and find a new location. Over 700 people have signed it, according to Craft. There is a competing petition on change.org that seeks support for keeping the range open.
“It sounded like it was a group of people [who] should be in the room, except they invited [members of] the shooting club,” Craft said. “Our position is, if there are private citizens in that room, helping plan a community discussion, and other private citizens who represent a different viewpoint are not in that room, that looks like a very biased planning session.”
The range has been the subject of debate for years, the residents said, not only because of the threat of fire but also the noise associated with using firearms near neighborhoods, Craft said. In 2012, a fire consumed 5 acres near the site before it was quickly suppressed.
Amid other factors, “the shooting range’s ill-suited location was a direct contributor to the origin and subsequent rapid and dangerous spread of the Lake Christine Fire,” the petition reads. “To allow a shooting range to persist in the same place after experiencing the destruction its location helped cause arguably would represent gross negligence and an egregious disregard of a proven locational hazard.
“Let’s move it to a safe location … close the current one and then work on creating a new one,” the petition adds.
Will said Friday’s meeting was held to set an agenda for two public meetings later this month. CPW has hired a professional facilitator to manage the meetings, tentatively set for Aug. 21 and Aug. 27 at Basalt High School, Porras said.
With regard to all public meetings on the gun range, Will said he hopes that attendees “will keep the discussion civil.”
Porras said no decisions were made about the gun range at Friday’s meeting aside from setting the future meetings. Officials took notes and will create specific agendas before they are held.
“It’s an opportunity for everyone in the community to talk about the range, the fire and other concerns,” Porras said. “Today was an opportunity for us to get together and talk about what the meetings are going to look like. It was just a way for us to get together and plan.”
Craft said CPW shouldn’t hire a facilitator without input from the residents.
“Just on the face of that, that doesn’t look correct,” she said. “The town of Basalt should be choosing the facilitator because this is a location issue. It’s our community discussion, and we need to make sure that the interests of Basalt, Missouri Heights and El Jebel are at the forefront of this discussion.
“We have asked for the town to pick the moderator. That would be appropriate. All of this is about appropriateness,” Craft said.
Resident Mike Luciano said the community group is concerned about the location of the gun range, and is not advocating against gun rights. He noted the irony of community members being excluded from a discussion “held in the community room of a public library.”
Residents sent a letter to Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and the town council that says citizens should have been allowed to provide input into the format of future meetings about the gun range.
“The Mid Valley Residents group wants to be present for all meetings involving town officials with individuals, groups or government agencies associated with the shooting-range issue,” the letter states.
Whitsitt attended the meeting, as did Town Manager Ryan Mahoney. Members of the Basalt police and fire departments also were present. No other town council members were there.
Easterly said the association is working on plans to address safety at the gun range. He said there are many members of the public who want to keep the range where it is.
“There are many members of the community to which the shooting range has been an important part of their lives, part of their recreation, since the late 1960s,” he said. “There is expressed private support to help fund improvements the Basalt shooting range will require going forward.”
He said residents who want the range relocated “should bring a viable suggestion as to what that location should be.” Used correctly, the range provides a safe, controlled environment, giving the valley a place for “a localization of shooters instead of having shooters spread out on public lands,” Easterly said.