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Jefferson County commissioners passed an ordinance with a 2-1 vote on Nov. 2, requiring new and existing commercial shooting facilities to obtain operating permits.
Commission Chair David Sullivan and Commissioner Kathleen Kler voted for the ordinance, while Commissioner Kate Dean voted against.
“It’s hard disagreeing,” Dean said.
During the meeting, she said she could not support the ordinance “as is,” but she gave credit to the amount of hard work that went into its creation.
It was a yearlong process in which a citizen advisory committee and county staff members met for more than 40 hours to draft the ordinance. The county held two public hearings — one of which was expunged from the record — and citizens submitted hundreds of public comments.
The commissioners passed the ordinance with some amendments made by staff in the past week.
Even though the ordinance has been approved, the moratorium on new and existing shooting facilities is still in place. No new development on shooting facilities can happen until the moratorium expires Dec. 17.
Kler made the motion to approve the ordinance but did so “unhappily,” she said.
“Having to make policy under threat of lawsuits is not a real good way to do it,” Kler said, referring to the amount of risk management the county staff, such as chief civil deputy prosecutor Philip Hunsucker, did to make sure the ordinance could stand up against potential lawsuits.
“It’s gambling. I don’t like to gamble,” Kler said.
However, she expressed the need to put the ordinance in place instead of extending the moratorium.
“It’s like a recipe that we’re developing,” Kler said. “Let’s cook it up, and if everybody throws up after the meal, let’s change the recipe.”
The ordinance was originally based off similar legislation enacted by Kitsap County, and it went through several lawsuits before it was upheld by the state Court of Appeals.
“This is an ordinance that tries to provide reasonable regulation that will pass muster,” Hunsucker said during the commissioners’ deliberations. “The more specific you get, and the more you try to target some concerns about a particular facility, the more likely it is that you’re going to run into problems.”
The Jefferson County shooting facilities ordinance is a new addition to county code Title 8, which regulates health and safety. The ordinance requires a permit application that will include plans for facility design, safety, operations, environment, noise abatement, and a professional evaluation and certification, among other requirements.
Some ideas brought up by the public could not be addressed in the ordinance, because it is under Title 8 and deals only with health and safety.
“I would like to find language that we could put in here for predictable times of quiet,” Dean said, despite this change. “I’m having a hard time supporting (the ordinance) as is.”
Hunsucker said some of those issues can be dealt with when the commissioners look to make changes to Title 18, on land use, in upcoming weeks. The county’s planning commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Chimacum High School Auditorium for a public hearing on proposed amendments to Title 18 regarding shooting facilities.
After listening to public testimony at a hearing Oct. 24, commissioners made several changes to the ordinance based on comments submitted by citizens, including those made by the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association and the Tarboo Ridge Coalition.
One change commissioners made in the safety plan specified no shooting is to take place after dark, with the exception of training for law enforcement officers or members of the armed forces. It also required law enforcement or members of the armed forces who train at a shooting facility in the dark not do so past 10 p.m. and limit the training to four hours one day a week.
Another concern from members of the Tarboo Ridge Coalition was limiting military training at local shooting facilities. To address that, a line was added in the operations plan that would require shooting facility owners to give a description of any activities that would not be overseen by the owner/operator and how the owner/operator would obtain compliance with the operating permit for those activities.
“There are certainly things not in (the ordinance) that we hoped for. But there are things in there that we did hope for,” said Diane Johnson, a member of the Tarboo Ridge Coalition, who worked with other members to propose regulations in the ordinance.
The commissioners also voted to remove a section that dealt with false reports. The section required that, after two or more false reports of violations from the same source within a six-month period, the sheriff would have the ability to discuss not responding to the reports from that source, and that the false reports may be subject to criminal penalties.
“I’m not sure we need to have a place for ‘false reports’ in the ordinance,” Sullivan said. “I think we ought to deal with the issue as it comes up, as we have on every other false report.”
Members of the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association had requested during the public testimony period to be exempt from the ordinance, as they do not consider themselves a “commercial” shooting facility, but that did not happen.
“It’s a burden to us, but we’re going to work it out,” said John Minor, a member of the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association who helped draft the ordinance on the citizen advisory committee. “They did what they had to do.”