Summit County officials promise solutions to mitigate shooting range noise
Law enforcement officials fear overly restrictive measures could push some shooters to the national forest to recreate
The Summit County Shooting Range has been closed since Friday, June 25, as officials roped off the area in an effort to mitigate wildfire risks while moving into Stage 2 fire restrictions. But a couple dozen community members and officials made their way past the caution tape Monday, June 28, to air their grievances and get more information about efforts by the county to reduce noise-related problems for nearby residents.
Despite a somewhat contentious atmosphere looming over the crowd, marked by occasional raised voices and interruptions, the sentiment by the end of the meeting appeared to be a consensus around what steps need to be taken to address the problem — at least at first.
Last year, the county hired consultant Siebein Associates to conduct a study on sound levels coming from the range and to come up with potential solutions to help mitigate the noise. The group measured ambient sound and noise coming from the shooting range at eight locations within 2 miles of the range.
The study shows that the sounds of gunshots during the exercise were generally within the same range as the ambient sounds already in the area, such as cars, wind and birds. The gunshots were between 30 and 60 A-weighted decibels, a measurement that is adjusted to correspond to the relative loudness of sounds as they’re heard by humans, with lower-frequency sounds reduced by the process and higher-pitched sounds increased, according to the report. The study equates 30 A-weighted decibels to a quiet bedroom at night and 60 A-weighted decibels to normal speech.
The study does emphasize that the short duration and intermittent nature of gunshots would make them stand out from other noises measured at similar sound levels.
For now, the plan to mitigate the problem is twofold. First, the county is planning to raise the height of the berm on the residential-facing side of the range to 20 feet and build a 10-foot wall on top. The project should cost around $400,000 to complete, and Assistant County Manager Bentley Henderson said the county would rely on consultants and engineers to ensure the expanded barrier is designed and constructed in the best place to get the desired effect.
“Based on the way the noise moved, and the nature of how it would mitigate that, it was determined to be the most effective with the dollars the county has available and the timing available for doing those, as well,” Henderson said.
The construction timeline is a little murky. Officials said the county is hoping to work with local contractors to find the materials, which would be the cheaper and faster option compared with putting out a request for bids. Either way, the county is hoping to begin the project sometime this year.
General noise mitigation is only part of the solution. Community members present at the meeting voiced that one of their biggest concerns is people using the range outside of the posted hours. Law enforcement officers are the only ones who are supposed to be using the range after hours. Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said his deputies each typically spend about four hours a year doing low-light training, and efforts are made to keep that training to just a couple of days per year.
Both FitzSimons and Silverthorne Police Chief John Minor said the training is necessary to make sure local officers are comfortable shooting at night, if necessary. Furthermore, FitzSimons said there currently aren’t enough ranges to accommodate law enforcement training statewide and that moving those operations to other shooting ranges — such as Hot Sulphur Springs, as some community members suggested — was unrealistic as departments compete for range time.
“That’s the reason why we can’t just pick up the problem and go somewhere else to shoot; there is nowhere else,” FitzSimons said.
But there are solutions to keep everyday users out of the range after hours. The county’s second mitigation project includes a fence that will either lock at a certain time or require an access code or fob to enter. Officials haven’t determined exactly how it would work yet.
“The other advantage of (the berm expansion and wall) is that it also allows us to then tie a fence in that will allow us to provide the access limitations that we really think are appropriate and necessary so we don’t have folks coming in after hours,” County Manager Scott Vargo said. “We can, in some way, control that access to a much greater degree than we do today.”
Officials said that while they hope noise issues will be considerably lessened once the planned measures are in place, they are open to trying additional options if problems persist.
“Once we construct all this and take all these next steps, it does not preclude the county from doing any of the other things identified in the study,” Henderson said. “This is not a one-shot opportunity. If it is concluded that the mitigation is not satisfactory, then some of the other items that were on the list can be employed.”
Plenty of other options have been identified, both by Siebein Associates and community members. Among Siebein’s most comprehensive — and expensive — options is a $7 million aluminum canopy structure covering the entire length of the firing range along with absorptive noise barrier walls enclosing the firing line. But for the cost, Vargo said the effort would likely mean only a minor improvement over the current planned mitigation strategies.
Community members called for more resources allocated to the Summit Range Association, a volunteer group that helps to manage the shooting range, with the goal of having paid employees monitoring range activity while it’s open. A potential fee placed on out-of-county shooters could help pay for the program, according to some recommendations.
Other ideas floated at the meeting included some sort of reservation or registration system so officials know who is using the range and when, providing residents with a schedule of law enforcement low-light training so it doesn’t come as a surprise, and further altering the range’s hours to better suit nearby residents.
Whatever future measures are implemented, if any, officials are hesitant to place too many restrictions on shooting range activity, primarily due to concerns surrounding wildfires. The shooting range has had its own issues with fires, including a blaze that ignited earlier this year in April. However, officials fear that if shooters are displaced, they’ll migrate to U.S. Forest Service territory, where they’ll be able to target shoot with even less oversight as long as they’re 150 yards away from developed areas or campsites.
“I confirmed with the Forest Service the other day that even under Stage 2 restrictions right now, you can go up in the forest and shoot a gun anytime day or night,” Minor said. “I was also involved with the range here a long time ago, and it was our hope — and it’s been reiterated here — to stop that behavior out in the forest to mitigate that wildfire risk and to have people shoot in a designated place.”
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