Boise & Garden City

Boise weighs what to do with police shooting range in Foothills

When this shooting range, which now belongs to the Boise Police Department, was built in 1960 near the end of Mountain Cove Road, the Foothills weren’t as popular for recreation as they are today.
When this shooting range, which now belongs to the Boise Police Department, was built in 1960 near the end of Mountain Cove Road, the Foothills weren’t as popular for recreation as they are today.

Boise construction contractor McAlvain Design Build started work this week on a new shooting range for the Boise Police Department.

Officers could start training at the new $2.8-million range on Kuna Mora Road between Cole and Pleasant Valley roads by April.

This is a great relief to people who live in the Military Reserve area of the Boise Foothills, where the department’s existing range is located, as well as people who like to ride bicycles, hike or walk on trails in that area.

It’s not nearly as popular with a handful of people who live near the new range.

“People out here, they’re out here for the quiet, and it’s going to ruin it for all of us,” said Joahn Maglecic, who lives on Curtis Road just south of where workers are preparing the ground for the new range.

Maglecic worries about the same things that irritate neighbors of the existing range: noise, safety and property values. She’s also worried that some of the wildlife she enjoys seeing, such as hawks and owls, will disappear when the shooting starts.

“It’s kind of a shame that our way of life isn’t going to be that way,” she said.

Catherine Chertudi, Boise’s solid waste programs manager, said the city wants to minimize disturbances to wildlife in the general area around the new range, but it doesn’t want to invite animals into the area where guns are going off. Chertudi downplayed concerns about disrupting the habitat.

“We’re aware of it,” she said. “We’re going to be paying close attention to the wildlife and the habitat issues, but we don’t perceive any real problems.”

Who’s going to want to live next door to that?

Joahn Maglecic, who lives on Curtis Road just south of the Boise Police Department’s new shooting range, scheduled to open next spring

PHILOSOPHICAL SHIFT

The beginning of the Military Reserve range’s end came when police proposed a $1.75 million upgrade that would have added a shooting tower and long-range shooting lanes, replaced the clubhouse and added new landscaping features.

Neighbors resisted, seizing their chance to testify in public hearings that the Boise Foothills of today are no place for a gun range. They were successful. In August 2013, Boise’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-2 to deny the city’s application for a permit to upgrade the range.

The range, located near the end of Mountain Cove Road, has been in existence since 1960, and the city probably had legal authority to continue using or even to expand it. But Boise didn’t appeal the Planning and Zoning decision. Over time, City Hall appeared to recognize that a gun range no longer fits on the list of appropriate ways to use the Foothills.

No question we’ve heard from a number of citizens who will be jogging or walking or biking in that area and hear the shots and have kind of an eerie feeling.

Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway

For one thing, city policy emphasizes preservation of the Foothills recreation and wildlife habitat. Foothills trails get somewhere around 1 million visits every year, Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said.

Besides the noise and inherent danger of firing guns in that context, there’s precedent for disaster starting at the range. An officer firing tracer rounds there ignited the infamous Foothills Fire of 1996, which burned more than 15,000 acres.

After backing away from the upgrades to the old range, the city began looking for an alternative. This spring, the police department closed a deal to pay $550,000 for the 120-acre parcel south of town where the new range is being built.

“Obviously, the No. 1 thing is to try to move our shooting out of the Foothills into a site that better meets a shooting range’s needs,” Boise Police Chief Bill Bones said Tuesday just minutes after the City Council approved moving ahead with construction on Kuna Mora Road.

TRAILHEAD? ARCHERY?

Now that construction has begun on the new range, the big question is what will happen to the old range.

City Hall has no firm answers. Options are many, but picking a winner might take awhile.

One option is to simply keep shooting at the range, though much less frequently than now. In this scenario, “expected use will be limited to a small group of officers on an infrequent basis, perhaps as little as one winter shoot a year,” Alison Tate, the police department’s operations support commander, wrote in a Sept. 9 memo to Mayor Dave Bieter and the City Council.

The Parks and Recreation Department, which has for more than a decade worked to buy Foothills land or find other ways to preserve it, naturally has its eye on the land. The hard part is figuring out what, exactly, to do with the 8.6-acre lot, as well as the clubhouse, well and asphalt.

There’s probably no reason to turn it into a trail head, Holloway said, since there are two — Ridgecrest and Three Bears — nearby already.

One idea is to convert it to an archery range. This would augment or replace the archery range Parks and Recreation manages at 750 N. Mountain Cove Road. But there might not be enough room for that, Holloway said.

In the end, Holloway said, the best use for the land might be turning it back into unimproved open space. That’s not terribly exciting, but it fits the broader mission of preserving the Foothills.

RISK REDUCTION

No matter what happens to the old range, the bullets that have accumulated in its dirt backstop will have to be cleaned up, said Chertudi, the solid waste programs manager.

At both the new and old ranges, she said, degradation of lead in the bullets shouldn’t occur as quickly as it would in most places because of the Boise area’s high-alkaline soils and light precipitation. That eases immediate concerns about the lead reaching waterways through the ground or surface runoff, but still, the bullets are contaminants that represent a long-term environmental hazard.

Some of the cleanup work was done when the city bought the range from the police officers union in 2008, Chertudi said, and more will be done before most officer training moves over to the new range. Federal best-practices guidelines call for removal of bullets every three to 10 years, depending on the intensity of use, she said.

“Because it hasn’t been done in awhile, it’s really due,” Chertudi said.

At some point, likely after the range is closed, she said, the city will undertake a more thorough removal of bullets. She said there’s no estimate yet of the cost or timetable for that work.

Chertudi said the new range will have dirt-and-steel backstops that will make it easier to retrieve bullets. She said the city has worked up a plan for environmental stewardship of the new site. The plan considers conditions such as soil types, number of expected rounds fired, types of bullets used, potential wildlife impacts and storm-water control.

What do you think?

What should the city of Boise do with the 8.6-acre Foothills property where the police department’s shooting range is located?

Ideas that have been kicked around include an archery range, a trail head, some other type of recreational facility, or open space. How much money should the city spend on a new facility?

Let reporter Sven Berg know with an email to sberg@IdahoStatesman.com.

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