The Basalt Town Council this week directed its town manager to send a letter to Colorado Parks and Wildlife outlining continued concerns about the operation of the Lake Christine gun range, while at the same time pledging to work together to further improve health and safety at the facility.
The town and CPW, the state entity that owns and operates the Basalt gun range that overlooks downtown, have worked together since last year’s devastating wildfire to improve safety, reduce noise and mitigate the potential for additional wildfires erupting at the range. Many areas of agreement which aspire to make the range safer in its operations include increasing the size of the dirt berms for additional range safety and to reduce noise and creating a greenbelt and other additional wildfire mitigation efforts. Adding a gun range safety officer onsite during public hours of operation, an idea first posited nearly nine years ago, is also part of the recommendations.
The town has set aside $5,000 this year to assist with paying for the range safety officer, and has earmarked up to $50,000 for additional range safety improvements.
“I believe the range safety officer will have a good effect on behavior at the range,” said Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney.
During a council meeting in mid-June, members voiced their positive reactions to the recent citizen task recommendations to CPW, encouraged town residents to add their comments to a CPW survey and raised specific issues they would like to see addressed.
At the top of that list, an expressed concern by a clear majority of council members is for more limited hours of operation.
After last year’s fire, an agreement between the town and CPW closed the range to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while a private club and commercial operators that have contracts with CPW were allowed to continue using the range seven days a week.
But one of the task force’s recent recommendations was to break the year into three seasons, with the range operating seven days a week, 12 hours a day in summer, six days a week in shoulder seasons and five days a week in winter.
At the June 11 town council meeting, councilwoman Katie Schwoerer called the increased hours “excessive.” The new letter from the town to CPW, discussed during the June 25 meeting, asks the entity to consider limiting the hours of operation to five days a week, an issue that councilmembers further reiterated this week.
“In the original discussion with CPW, there had been agreement that the hours of operation would be curtailed,” noted Bill Infante, Basalt town councilman. “The spirit was that we were going to reduce the hours so that there would be peace and tranquility in the town for certain hours and days. I think this outcome is not consistent with some of that original discussion.”
CPW officials and others have pointed out in public sessions that limiting the hours of operation at the range pushes sportsmen to use the surrounding national forest and public lands for target practice.
Implementing changes at the range is made more difficult by the fact that CPW is a state entity with layers of management, rules and procedures that have to be followed in order for changes to be made.
CPW asked to expedite the process
Many Basalt council members have expressed their displeasure with how long it may take to change the signs at the gun range to increase public safety. Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt called the signage issue “bureaucratic” and the new letter to CPW asks them to “expedite the process” as much as possible.
Council members and some citizens of Basalt have also expressed their frustration with previous efforts by the town to alter operations at the gun range. Town resolutions in 2010 asked for a gun range safety officer onsite, more limited hours of operation and soil/water testing to ensure that metals and other contaminants are not going into Basalt’s water supply.
Councilman Infante and others, including a member of the citizen task force, have expressed displeasure with the fact that nine years have passed since those resolutions, and, while the town’s current testing continues to show that Basalt has very clean water, extra testing should be done to ensure the town’s environmental health. CPW has indicated that it plans to do additional water, soil and noise testing at the range later this year as part of the task force’s recommendations.
Stacey Craft, a member of the task force, has been critical of CPW and how the task force was formulated and carried out. She pointed out that all of the members were over the age of 50; that the task force asked for experts to meet with them and that didn’t happen, and that the task force was not provided with any lead testing results from the gun range.
“The fact that no criteria were established seriously undermines the validity of the group’s recommendations, while also effectively preventing appropriate vetting and calling into question the integrity of the process,” Craft noted in comments to council on June 25.
Resolutions ‘are not binding’
The Basalt council’s letter to CPW asks for a specific commitment to closing the Basalt gun range during Stage 2 fire restrictions. At the town meeting at Basalt High School held earlier in June, CPW officials acknowledged the fact that there is no one specific statewide rule and regulation that governs all CPW gun ranges regarding fire restrictions.
There is also no Basalt town ordinance that would allow a fire chief, sheriff or town police to close the range during fire restrictions, with town manager Mahoney acknowledging, “resolutions are not binding on CPW.”
In conclusion, the letter from the town asks CPW to pursue a long-term solution for the gun range. In speaking with Councilman Auden Schendler, he made the following point: “I think the range is an asset and a good thing. But I think over 60-plus years, the town has naturally grown around it, and it just makes common sense to continue to explore relocation. If that ends up impossible, then enclosing it is a good second choice.”
CPW will be taking comments about the gun range and the task force recommendations until the end of July. That survey can be found on the Basalt town website at basalt.net.