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Range war

Residents near a proposed gun range fear what it will mean for the area’s watershed and wildlife.

Carol Cole-Frowe March 12th, 2013

Watershed, wildlife and noise concerns are among issues that residents in rural southeast Oklahoma City believe are reasons not to relocate a shooting range within a mile of their homes.

Meadowlake residents by a new gate near the proposed gun range
Credit: Mark Hancock

The Tecumseh-based Quail Ridge Sporting Clays opened that part of its outdoor shooting range business in February 2012 at S.E. 149th between Air Depot and Midwest boulevards in the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust (OCWUT)-owned Elm Creek Reservoir reserve, where a future reservoir could be built to supply OKC and its water customers’ needs.

Protests immediately arose over the noise.

Quail Ridge owner David Martin said he started looking for a different location after just two months there.

“We’re still under negotiations for where we might move it,” he said.

The Oklahoma City Council will consider a special-use permit to operate firearms March 26.

The leading location for the new range would be OCWUT land at S.E. 119th and Air Depot, also in the Elm Creek Reservoir reserve. The city has terminated leases in the area and has agreed to repay Martin $116,855 for cleanup and improvements he made at the 149th Street location.

“There is a demand for the sport in Oklahoma City, but it’s just finding that right place,” said city spokeswoman Kristy Yager.

The proposed relocation has angered nearby residents of Meadowlake addition at S.E. 104th north of the location, which falls in the city’s Southeast Sector Plan.

“Why is public land and public money being used for private enterprise?” asked avian veterinarian David Harlin, who lives in Meadowlake. “They’ve come down on us like a gang of Dobermans on a colony of poodles.”

The protesters have responded by circulating petitions. Harlin said many of the shooting range’s supporters come from outside the area and some even outside the state.

“Their supporters want to come shoot in our neighborhood and then go home to theirs,” Harlin said.

Wary of the watershed
The Meadowlake protesters estimate 13.6 tons of lead was deposited at Quail Ridge’s 149th location during 26 events last year.

In 13 events planned so far this year, they estimate 2,710 shooters taking 100 shots apiece, translating to about 271,000 rounds fired, or about 8.5 tons for those events.

They urge the use of steel shot instead of lead, which was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency to hunt waterfowl in 1991. Some shooters do not like to use steel shot, however, which they say damages the barrels of their guns.

In 2007, Southeast Sector Plan was adopted as an amendment to Oklahoma City’s 2000-2020 Plan. It noted the importance of protecting “economic and environmental resources” such as the West Elm Creek Reservoir preserve and Tinker Air Force Base.

The low densities within the eastern two-thirds of the sector are beneficial to the health and sustainability of the natural environment, which includes a distinctly unique forest ecotype, numerous species of flora and fauna, and an abundant supply of high-quality surface and ground water. In addition, this undeveloped land area serves to recharge a major aquifer that provides water to several municipalities.”

Martin said he will clean up the current S.E. 149th site when he moves to the new site. And he said he’ll keep the new one clean.

“We agreed with nearby residents that lead be regularly removed, and that will be done,” Martin said about the new site.

The range may eventually have to move if the reservoir is built to meet the city’s increasing water needs.
Debbie Ragan, spokeswoman for the city’s utilities department, said the Elm Creek Reservoir “will be built when needed.” The current forecast, she said, is about 20 years from now.

A soil analysis performed by Johnson & Associates, Inc. of Oklahoma City found the proposed location is suitable for a shooting range.

Timothy Johnson, president of Johnson & Associates, reported to OKC that the EPA’s Best Management Practices that Martin has said he intends to follow are sufficient to protect the area’s ground water.

“The results indicate the presence of clay just below one foot below the surface of the majority of the site, providing the necessary impervious barrier to protect against any possibility of migration of contaminates to a level that might adversely affect ground water,” he wrote.

Johnson recommended the EPA Best Practices of keeping the soil acidity between the pH levels of 6.5 and 8.5, because overly high acidity can make the lead leech. The levels are currently at 6.23 to 7.95 pH.

But Matt Stratton of Meadowlakes said he’d asked city officials at a recent meeting whether they’d allow an auto repair shop at the Elm Creek Reservation site and was told no.

Matt Stratton
Credit: Mark Hancock

“We can’t understand how this kind of business got into the [Southeast Sector Plan],” Stratton said.  

Ways of wildlife
“Ducks eat it, thinking it’s food,” said Colette Calame of the lead shot, which they’re fearful will harm the geese, peregrine falcons and wild turkeys that regularly reside there. “Then [bald] eagles will eat the poisoned animal.”

The 2007 Southeast Sector Plan even notes that the low-density development in the area benefits Tinker by providing habitat for wildlife that might otherwise be drawn to the base.

“Wildlife can create hazards for airfield operations, such as deer on runways or birds in flight paths.

Additionally, the proximity of these large, natural open spaces are beneficial for the base’s operations, which are best suited to occur within low-density areas of a city,” the plan reads.

Harlin is upset that migratory wildlife could be poisoned in the area’s narrow Central Flyway migratory route used by millions of birds, including the endangered whooping crane, annually for their migration patterns. The Audubon Society lists the area as a “hot spot” for bird watching.

“What they are doing is seriously unfair to both domestic and wild animals,” he said.

Harlin said the gunshots will scare domestic, non-hunting dogs when the large dog park planned near the 40-acre Kitchen Lake opens soon in the area. There are horseback-riding facilities, motorcycle trails and fields to fly model airplanes.

He said the noise from aircraft going to Tinker is much different than the gunshot “impulse” noise.

Noise abatement

The Meadowlake neighbors contend that although decibel levels were within the city’s noise ordinance restrictions, noises from shotguns going off are different than sounds of nature, which they moved to their southeast OKC homes to hear.

A noise study by Marshall Environmental Management, Inc., hired to assess the noise complaints by the city, sampled three sites during shooting activities and for 24 hours without the shooting. Decibel levels on most shooting ranged between the mid-50s to low 60s decibels.

“It is the opinion of the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) that, the analytical data resulting from this survey is compliant with the OKC Noise Ordinance for a receiving land use district. In this instance, the shooting activities are not considered a nuisance,” wrote Charles Marshall of Marshall Environmental.

“Do I want to listen to that all day long?” asked Stratton of the gunshots and said it’s a lot different to hear wildlife or barking dogs rather than the crack of gunshots. “They are willing to make 100 households miserable to make this one guy happy.”  

Martin said a barking dog is louder than the guns shot at his proposed new range. He said he plans berms, additional landscaping and specially designed shooting stands to block noise.

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03.14.2013 at 10:50 Reply

The noise is a known and admitted nuisance acknowledged by the city and the owner (note the modified hours of operation and agreement to relocate the business February of 2012).  Meadowlakes Addition is 0.8 miles from the proposed relocation at SE 119th Street.  Neighbors as far as 2 miles away from the current location have complained to the City about the noise and some have resorted to noise cancelling headphones to work in their gardens.  The area is also a designated environmental conservation area. This reminds me of the song “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot”.

The noise abatement Quail Ridge speaks of is in the lease agreement to plant a  minimum  of 3 one inch trees,  and an existing elevation of the ground about 2 feet on the other side of the road.  3 one inch trees really????