Fort Meade plan for skeet shooting range stirs outrage

Residents fear danger to homes, park, school

July 29, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

To say Fort Meade's plan to put a public skeet and trapshooting range near the northeast corner of the military post is misfiring with many of its neighbors would be an understatement.

Residents of nearby communities say they fear for their safety, do not want an earful of gunfire and worry that such a site near a homeless shelter, a school and a park is an invitation to disaster.

But Fort Meade officials say the gun pellets could not reach the communities, the range would not endanger anyone and the noise probably would not be very loud or constant. They hope to build the range in the spring.

"I belong to the [National Rifle Association], and I don't believe in gun control and all that, but I don't think that's a good location," said Ray Srock, president of the Greenbriar Homeowners Association, a community more than a mile from the site.

The location, which had a skeet and trap range until about a decade ago, is less than the length of a football field from Sarah's House, a shelter for women and children, and somewhat farther from Meade Heights Elementary School, both on the Army post. It would face away from those buildings and toward woods.

Zoe Draughon, who co-chairs the Restoration Advisory Board, exploded in anger that the panel on environmental issues at the post was not told about the proposed shooting range, even though the environmental assessment for it is in progress. The post is a federal Superfund site.

"I think it's very interesting that Fort Meade thinks it's appropriate to put a shooting range between homeless people and an elementary school," she said. "If it's such a cool thing, put it over by the officers' quarters, put it near the officers' children," she said, pointing out the Pershing Hill area of the post. "They are going to kill a kid. There is no up side to this."

Mary Anne O'Donnell, administrator of the 137-bed shelter, said she had noise and safety worries but wanted more information from the post.

People in the surrounding communities, many of whom volunteer at Sarah's House, are protective of its residents.

"I just cannot imagine what this is going to do to the children who are playing in Provinces Park that we fought so hard for, or the children at Sarah's House, who have had enough trouble in their lives, or the women there, who are going through difficult times," said Lore Peterson, vice president of the nearby Provinces Civic Association.

The range would be about three-quarters of a mile from the park, an Anne Arundel County facility with ball fields, tennis courts and a playground. Homes surround the park.

Daniel Goss, who lives less than a mile from the site in Strawberry Hills, did not recall the old skeet and trap range with fondness. "We could hear it. It was boom-boom-boom-boom-boom," he said. "It's like an airplane flying over -- it's annoying."

That, he said, was with the range facing away from his house. This plan has him worried about wayward shots.

"They are going to be firing in our direction," Goss said.

Residents in the fast-developing area note that shots fired from the Lorton, Va., range in recent weeks found their way into nearby homes.

Roger McDonald, who runs the post's equestrian center, said the old trapshooting range made "insignificant" noise and offered recreation that many took advantage of.

"In terms of somebody wandering out there getting shot -- I don't see that that's possible," McDonald said.

Fort Meade officials said the opposition is premature and ill-informed.

A $41,000 environmental study will be done in September, and a public hearing will be held if the military decides to move ahead with the Olympic-style range, said Weldon E. Kelley, director of personnel and community activities at Fort Meade. He said once that decision is made, a wealth of details will be made available.

"It may be that there is enough opposition to this that it will die," he said. "We are not blowing anyone off."

Pellets used at the range will not travel more than 100 yards, but the range covers a half-circle about 250 yards by 500 yards. It will be fenced and operate only in daylight.

"Whatever we have to do to make it safe, we will do," Kelley said. "Safety is not an issue. Safety is our business."

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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