Commission votes: No outdoor shooting ranges

Posted 2/26/20

After a full day of deliberations Feb. 24, the Board of County Commissioners approved two ordinances that will require all future shooting ranges to be indoor facilities.

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Commission votes: No outdoor shooting ranges

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After a full day of deliberations Feb. 24, the Board of County Commissioners approved two ordinances that will require all future shooting ranges to be indoor facilities.

The vote was unanimous to repeal and replace two ordinances that had been struck down by the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board after an appeal from a local citizen group that opposed the commissioners’ first try at regulating shooting ranges.

The commissioners voted for the recommendations made by the volunteer planning commission, stating that no new outdoor shooting facilities will be allowed in Jefferson County. Only indoor ranges can be built in the future, and only in specific areas of the county.

As the commissioners went to vote on the first ordinance, Commission Chair Greg Brotherton asked if there was any more discussion on the issue—after nearly five hours of wordsmithing had taken place.

“I guess we spent all day discussing it,” he said.

“We’ve been discussing it for two years,” joked commissioner Kate Dean.

The vote wraps up a two-year dialogue on shooting ranges and how they should be regulated in Jefferson County. It began in the summer of 2017, when Joe D’Amico, owner of Fort Discovery—a shooting range that D’Amico used to operate near Discovery Bay—submitted plans to the county to build an outdoor shooting range on his property near Tarboo Lake.

This sparked concern among Tarboo Lake’s neighbors, and the county soon enacted a moratorium on building ranges while they gathered a committee to help draft the first set of ordinances.

Two years and a handful of public hearings later, the commissioners hope this will be their final edits to the ordinances.

With the help of county administrator Philip Morley, civil deputy prosecutor Philip Hunsucker, Department of Community Development director Patty Charnas and several members of the planning commission who attended the board’s all-day meeting, the commissioners hashed out specific language changes to the ordinances, hoping to make them defensible—not only to show compliance with the Growth Management Hearings Board, but also to hold up in court.

After commissioners passed the ordinances in their first form in December 2018, Joe D’Amico filed a Second Amendment lawsuit, which county staff is still fighting in appeals.

The commissioners wanted the language to be clear: only indoor ranges will be allowed in Jefferson County, and only in industrial zones of the county. But for the ordinances to hold up in court, commissioners spent hours analyzing each section to make sure the language related to shooting in the county—whether in a commercial shooting range or in someone’s backyard, both of which are protected rights—was clear and intentional.

Restricting new shooting ranges to indoors-only is a win for those in the county such as the citizen group Tarboo Ridge Coalition, which hoped to prevent noise and lead pollution, as well as paramilitary training in rural parts of the county.

But for residents who enjoy shooting outside, the regulations are a disappointment.

“No more outdoor shooting ranges means no more shooting ranges in Jefferson County,” said Jay Towne, in an interview with The Leader after the planning commission made their recommendations in November 2019. Towne is the president of the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association, which will now be the only outdoor range in the county. JCSA is protected by a 20-year agreement with the county, and grandfathered in to the new regulations.

“They cost millions to build and about $10,000 per month to maintain,” Towne said. “In an area with low population density like ours, what the planning commission really means is ‘no more ranges.’”

But the commissioners argued that the county has wide swaths of public land, such as the Olympic National Forest, in which target practice is allowed outdoors.

“As part of the decision-making, that was really critical to me,” Dean said during the deliberations. “There is vast amounts of land elsewhere in the county where people can shoot.”

Even though commissioners voted to repeal and replace the two ordinances with the new, revised versions, county staff still has to finish the final edits commissioners approved.

Once they are finalized and signed by all three commissioners, the ordinances will be available for the public to read on Jefferson County’s website at co.jefferson.wa.us.

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