Residents, city of Boise in standoff over police shooting range

Officials says improvements will make the shooting range quieter; a neighbor wants set shooting days and hours.

sberg@idahostatesman.comJuly 31, 2013 

The Boise Police Department’s firing range sits in the Foothills a couple of miles north of Downtown — in an area that boasts several trails popular with hikers and bikers. There’s never been a recorded gun-related accident at the range, but that doesn’t mean it’s not on the minds of people who use the trails. “When they’re firing down there, when you’re up above going across on the trails, which are just outside the fence, it gets your attention,” said neighbor Roger Michener.

SVEN BERG — sberg@idahostatesman.com

  • SHOOTING RANGE HEARING

    The Boise Planning and Zoning Commission will consider the city's application for a permit to overhaul the Boise police shooting range Aug. 12. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the City Council chambers at City Hall, 150 N. Capitol Blvd.

The city of Boise wants you to know that the expansion of its police shooting range isn't an expansion.

In fact, upgrades will reduce, not increase, gun noise, Boise police Capt. Randy Roper said.

The improvements will also make the range safer and look nicer, Roper said.

But neighbors aren't convinced. For some of them, patience with the sound of guns going off is wearing thin.

"We can't have social functions. You can't talk," said Barbara Michener, who lives with her husband, Roger, a few hundred feet north of the range. "When they shoot the big guns, it rattles the windows."

Like several people who live within earshot of the range in the Foothills, Michener was alarmed when city planning staff put the word "expansion" on the application for an overhaul of the range.

She doesn't believe a concrete wall and other noise-dampening elements will help much. She worries there will be more shooting, more noise and more frustration at the barbecues she and her husband host a couple times a month.

Roger Michener said improvements to the range may increase the number of law-enforcement agencies that train at the Foothills range.

"They're going to have a great range. Everybody will want to train there," he said.

CLASH IN THE FOOTHILLS

The range near the end of Mountain Cove Road (scroll to bottom of story for map of the range's location) has been in existence since 1960, before any of the neighbors moved in. A fire sparked by a police officer's bullet burned more than 22 square miles in 1996.

In 2008, the city bought it from the Boise police officers' association, a private organization.

Mary and Don Reiman live about a quarter-mile north of the range, its closest neighbors after the Micheners. The Reimans don't believe the range is an appropriate use in their area of the Foothills. Besides a few homes, a series of recreation trails dissects the land around it.

But the fact that the range was in use 16 years before their home was built complicates their objection to it. Nonetheless, Don Reiman wants the city to close the range and convert it to recreational amenities. He said the inherent danger from flying bullets and the clash between gunfire and Boise's goal of a tranquil setting should persuade the city to find another spot for officers to hone their firearm skills.

The police department has looked for other locations to build a new range but decided improving the existing range was the best option, spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said.

Boise plans to shell out $1.32 million over the next four years to pay for improvements aimed at making it quieter, prettier and safer, Roper said. The city plans to replace the clubhouse on the grounds with a smaller building, making room for longer-range shooting lanes. Instead of 35 50-yard lanes, the new configuration would have 20 50-yard lanes and 18 100-yard lanes, according to the city's application.

The plan calls for landscaping changes to make the range and surrounding acreage nicer-looking and less flammable.

The city also plans to install a 360-degree shooting area — a feature that's caught the eye of some concerned neighbors worried about bullets flying in their direction instead of away from them, as the current configuration allows.

An 8-foot berm will surround the 360-degree area. Eight feet doesn't offer much of a barrier at 50 yards, but it should be plenty for the close-quarters, scenario-based training that officers will do in the enclosure, Roper said. Targets will be a few feet away from officers, he said.

Boise officers will fire the same service handguns, 12-gauge shotguns and .223-caliber assault rifles they've used traditionally, Roper said.

"The range upgrades will cause no net increase in perceptible noise at the two nearest homes," according to a study by noise consultant Mullins Acoustics.

COMPROMISE?

Roger Michener wants the Boise Police Department to commit to a shooting schedule. That way, he can plan get-togethers without worrying about noise irritation.

Roper said that just isn't doable. Sometimes, officers scheduled for required range training are called away to emergencies. In those cases and other unforeseen incidents, Roper said, the officers have to reschedule their training and can't always fit it in with prescribed hours.

But Roper said police are open to scheduling certain days and hours during which officers can't shoot. That would likely include night hours and a couple of weekends a month, he said. Those details could be written into the terms of the range's permit.

Roger Michener said he's open to discussing those kinds of terms. He doesn't want loose guidelines or even a verbal commitment. He wants the restrictions in writing.

"If they can't tell me when they're going to shoot and when they're not going to shoot with some limitations, well then, I'm going to oppose the thing," he said.

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View Boise Foothills shooting range in a larger map

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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