The board of Jefferson County commissioners listened to three hours of public testimony about rules for commercial shooting facilities Dec. 10 as more than 50 people spoke during a hearing at the Fort Worden Commons. They addressed a proposed ordinance that would make changes to Title 18 in county code, which deals with land use.
The ordinance aims to “harmonize” Title 18 with a commercial shooting facilities ordinance commissioners passed in November that made amendments to Title 8. Commissioners received recommended amendments to the code from the planning commission and county staff before public testimony.
Commissioners may take action on the recommended amendments during a special meeting at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Northwest Maritime Center meeting room.
The planning commission recommended the following changes:
• Prohibiting military and law enforcement training at commercial shooting facilities.
• Requiring shooting hours to be restricted to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Prohibiting landing an aircraft or discharging firearms from an aircraft or drone at a commercial shooting facility.
• Requiring a 500-yard setback of shooting areas around any lake greater than 20 acres.
• Requiring a 16-foot-high noise barrier above grade at shooting ranges.
• Requiring all shooting areas to be fenced to a minimum height of 8 feet.
However, county staff did not recommend any of these amendments be made.
“Our overall recommendation on the new design-use standards developed by the planning commission would be not to adopt additional siting, design or operational limitations beyond the existing laws,” said Austin Watkins, a planning manager with the Department of Community Development. “And to use the existing time-tested and current SEPA and conditional use permit process.”
The public was divided on whether the commissioners should accept the planning commission’s recommendations.
“Law enforcement needs somewhere to train,” said Julia Towne, secretary at the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association.
Towne said the association provides training for the sheriff’s office, the Port Townsend Police Department, state Department of Fish and Wildlife game wardens, the U.S. Coast Guard and more.
“The bottom line is that the four or five things the planning commission added were strictly off the Tarboo Ridge Coalition’s list and were directed at one individual, not the entire process,” Towne said.
Joe D’Amico, president of Fort Discovery, has proposed a shooting facility at Tarboo Lake, a proposal that sparked the year-long discussion. Currently there is a moratorium on any development of commercial shooting facilities. That moratorium expires Dec. 17.
About 20 members of the sportsmen’s association spoke against the planning commission’s recommendations.
“Initiative 1639 voted on by Washington state citizens will require any gun owners to meet certain training standards,” said Abram Dorny, a member of the association. “The Sportsmen’s club offers gun safety training, recreational use, competitive use, preparation for hunting, and so forth. Joe D’Amico’s place offers training to both private agencies, local law enforcement agencies, federal agencies and so forth. He also offers training for private citizens.”
On the other side, at least half of the speakers were in favor of the planning commission’s recommendations.
Members of the Tarboo Ridge Coalition, which opposes the proposed facility, said they support small-scale gun ranges such as the sportsmen’s association’s but asked commissioners to consider the scale of future facilities.
“The Tarboo Ridge Coalition supports the JCSA’s stated purpose, which is to provide free use of the facility for training purposes to local law enforcement,” said Nancy Wyatt of Quilcene, a member of the coalition.
Other community members asked the commissioners to extend the moratorium on shooting facilities to allow more time to develop the county code.
“You have a legal right and the power to extend the moratorium,” said Sonia Story, who asked the commissioners to consider the environmental impacts the proposed shooting facility might have on the Tarboo Lake watershed. “You can close loopholes without throwing away a watershed and a pristine lake. You can close loopholes without compromising already existing gun ranges. … To make huge decisions under fear of threat makes no sense. You’re human beings. Are you going to choose love or money?”