Shooting range project scrapped

Officials say costs, not nearby buildings, led to cancellation

January 30, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Officials at Fort Meade have scrapped plans to build a skeet and trapshooting range just yards from a homeless shelter and an elementary school, saying the plan was not "economically feasible" because of costs to continue an environmental study and for equipment to clean up the range.

An environmental assessment report ordered by the post last May had not been completed, but comments by Environmental Management Office engineers about draft versions made it clear that continuing with plans for the facility would have proven very expensive for the Army.

"The money involved with the continuing process and the money involved to mitigate -- it just wasn't cost-effective," said Jim Gebhardt, an environmental engineer who handled the project.

"The people who were willing to build a range were not willing to spend a lot of money to clean up," Gebhardt said Friday.

The Olympic-style range was proposed by the post Directorate of Personnel and Community Affairs Office, which is responsible for providing and maintaining recreational facilities for soldiers and retirees.

The office paid a private contractor $31,000 for the environmental assessment and $10,000 for a noise study.

It would have had to come up with $60,000 to $90,000 for a finding-of-impacts report to continue with the project and pay for routine cleaning of the grounds to remove lead shot and the clay pigeon pieces, both of which are contaminants, Gebhardt said.

The impacts report could take between eight and 10 months to complete, Gebhardt said. Plans had called for the $95,000 range to be built this spring. "It wasn't going to be a profit center," said Nathaniel Whitlaw, who heads the Office of Outdoor Recreation. "If we had to spend another $60,000, it was just going to be a loser."

Despite vigorous protests from residents outside the base that the range would make too much noise and pose a danger to children at nearby Meade Heights Elementary School and families living at Sarah's House homeless shelter, Whitlaw insisted the decision to drop the project was an economic one.

The majority of people -- about 65 percent -- who responded to a questionnaire at a public meeting on the proposal in September supported it, Gebhardt said.

Draft versions of the environmental assessment report also dismissed safety as a concern. The direction of the range -- away from the school and the shelter -- and buffer zones should be sufficient to protect people from stray shot, the report drafts said.

"The biggest concern was the environmental concern," Gebhardt said. "We could not allow them to dump lead shot on the ground without some sort of recovery system. We're in the spotlight. It doesn't look good for an area on the National Priorities List [the nation's worst environmental sites] to go out and put more contamination on the ground."

Neighbors say they are just happy the Army has canceled its plans.

"It was just ill-advised to begin with," said Zoe Draughon, who heads the Fort Meade Restoration Advisory Board, a citizen environmental oversight committee.

"I'm very pleased for the people who've spent thousands of hours volunteering on environmental efforts that the base didn't just turn around and thumb their nose at us because that's what this would've been," she said. "Fun shooting just doesn't belong on the base anymore."

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