As marchers took to the streets Jan. 20 for the third annual Port Townsend Women’s March, Nancy Wyatt handed out fliers and gathered signatures to oppose the proposed shooting facility near Quilcene.
“People will often come up and say, ‘Aren’t you glad all that stuff with the gun range is over?’” Wyatt said inside the Cotton Building, joined by advocates of other causes seeking support from marchers. “But the thing is, it’s not over.”
During the past year, members of the Tarboo Ridge Coalition, a group that is against Fort Discovery’s proposed shooting facility in Quilcene near Tarboo Lake, have rallied at Jefferson County Commission meetings and public hearings for stronger regulations on gun ranges in the county.
But in December, when a year-long moratorium on development of gun ranges ended and the commissioners approved an ordinance regulating the zoning of commercial shooting facilities, the TRC was left with the same concern it had a year ago: would Fort Discovery President Joe D’Amico’s proposed shooting facility, called Cedar Hills, impact the peace and solitude of the rural neighborhood?
“The coalition devoted thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteer hours trying to support the county’s efforts to effectively regulate gun ranges,” said Wyatt, who lives in Quilcene.
In June 2017, D’Amico filed a pre-application with the county for a shooting facility that would include seven gun ranges, helicopter pads, cabins and a bunkhouse at his property north of Tarboo Lake.
“We went to every hearing and meeting,” Wyatt stated in a TRC news release. “Every significant suggestion we, our attorneys or the county planning commission made were simply ignored without explanation.”
The commissioners approved an ordinance that would require all commercial shooting facilities to be in compliance with the state Environmental Policy Act, submit a conditional use permit application for review by a hearing examiner, and submit an operating permit that requires a professional evaluation of proposed activities. The ordinance also limits night shooting to four hours per week for law enforcement and military training only, from dark until 10 p.m.
While those regulations are more than the county had a year ago, they aren’t enough for TRC.
As soon as the commissioners approved the ordinance, TRC Board President Peter Newland filed an appeal with the state Growth Management Hearings board, challenging the adoption of the ordinance. It will go before that board on May 16.
“We believe that what the commissioners did doesn’t fit within their own comprehensive plan,” Newland said. “If we win, all we get is the ordinance sent back to the commissioners for correction. It’s a re-do.”
Meanwhile, the TRC has a lawsuit to deal with.
In late December, Fort Discovery sued the Tarboo Ridge Coalition, claiming trespass and invasion of privacy after the coalition flew drones over D’Amico’s property at Tarboo Lake.
“They’re saying that our flying drones was a trespass on their property,” Newland said. “They make all kinds of assertions that we did it at treetop level.”
Newland said the TRC used drones to take photos of D’Amico’s property, which it then submitted to the state Department of Ecology, Department of Community Development and Department of Natural Resources.
TRC claimed the photos showed possible clearing and grading of wetlands on D’Amico’s property.
Since then, the Department of Ecology has contacted Fort Discovery, saying it “may” have violated the law, and it requested a site visit.
“Because of D’Amico’s history, that is well-known and is in public records, of everything he did at Discovery Bay that was unpermitted,” Newland said. “Given his history, we said this guy is liable to start building (the shooting facility) without any permits.”
D’Amico said Fort Discovery has “nothing to hide.”
“We’re not surprised that people will make unfounded complaints in an attempt to bog down a property owner’s land use development efforts,” D’Amico stated. “That’s a familiar tactic in Jefferson County, and we’re prepared for it.”
Newland said TRC had been launching the drones from a boat on Tarboo Lake and flying them legally over D’Amico’s property.
“We don’t deny that we did what we did,” Newland said. “We just assert that it’s perfectly legal, and we did it in accordance with FAA regulations, and the flights were conducted by a licensed (drone) pilot.”
Beyond the lawsuit, Fort Discovery issued a petition for a protection order against TRC member Teri Hein for “continuing to fly aerial drones at tree-top level over his property.”
“Teri had nothing to do with the drones,” Newland said. “I don’t think she even knows the pilot’s name, what the flights cost or the flight dates.”
All of the legal issues come at a cost, Newland said. The TRC is entering the new year with big fundraising goals.
“We will probably have to raise $40,000, maybe more,” Newland said.
Newland said the coalition also hopes to keep Jefferson County residents informed about the issues, even though the ordinances already have passed.
After handing out fliers, signing up residents for email blasts and informing people at the Women’s March, the TRC board members are regrouping to focus on future fundraisers, events and actions.