EPA clears gun ranges after lead-poisoning investigation

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

GARDINER -- A site inspection of Security Services Northwest's shooting ranges has turned up no evidence of lead poisoning near Discovery Bay.

Mark Ader, remedial project manager with the Environmental Protection Agency cleanup office in Seattle, said in a letter to Security Services president Joe D'Amico that the EPA "does not anticipate further investigation under the federal Superfund program."

"EPA's no further action designation does not relieve your facility from complying with appropriate Washington state regulations," the letter to D'Amico dated Sept. 25 said.

"Actually this was good for us," D'Amico said Friday. "We always thought we were good stewards of the environment."

D'Amico leases the site for the company's headquarters from Discovery Bay Land Co., owned by the Gunstone family, which owns commercial shellfish beds and upland acreage on and above the bay's shoreline.

D'Amico granted access to the site -- which he calls Fort Discovery¬ -- to Seattle office of the EPA, which conducted the investigation after a complaint raised the question of lead contamination.

'Clean bill of health'

"It's good to have a clean bill of health," D'Amico said, adding that he had his own blood tested and no traces of lead poisoning were found.

Attempts to contact Ader were unsuccessful.

D'Amico, who lives with his wife and four children on the property off Gardiner Road and just downhill of the shooting ranges, said the EPA study shows that the idea that lead from spent bullets could be poisoning the watershed above the western shores of the bay "is not supported by scientific data."

EPA officials this year inspected the range site at Security Services headquarters on Fort Discovery, off Gardiner Road, after they received a complaint in September 2007 from Gardiner resident and nurse Margaret Bailey.

Bailey's complaint came at a time when D'Amico was attempting to rezone 40 acres of land from rural residential to commercial forest southwest of U.S. Highway 101.

The rezoning, which the Jefferson County commissioners denied in February, would have allowed Security Services to relocate its shooting range in the Olympic foothills on Discover Bay Land Co. property about two miles southwest of the existing range northeast of 101.

The rezoning request was a move to quell the noise neighbors heard from the gunfire, D'Amico said, after more than a year of legal battle between him and Jefferson County over using the range for Security Services employee gun training.

Bailey suggested that lead poisoning could be originating from the shooting range on the property, making its way to Discovery Bay waters and threatening shellfish that people consume.

She also questioned whether there was pollution on the uphill site proposed for the rezoning.

A Peninsula Daily News reporter in 2005 visited part of the foothill site proposed in the rezoning, where the Seattle Police Department bomb squad blew up a car during a training exercise.

The foothills site has been used in the past for shooting practice.

"In all my research, I did not find any other outdoor shooting ranges that didn't severely pollute the environment, so I still have many unanswered questions," Bailey said in an e-mail to the Peninsula Daily News.

"Did the EPA check the tactical shooting ranges on both sides of the highway? Did they monitor the shellfish and clam beds for lead pollution? Was the EPA aware of all the SSNW ranges, or were they incompetent, or subject to influence?

"Yes, I still have many unanswered questions, but on the other hand, I do have some solid answers. I can rest assured that the community and the courts have spoken out against Joe D'Amico's practices."

Shut down in 2005

The county shut down D'Amico's ranges in the summer of 2005 after county officials received complaints from Discovery Bay neighbors who said they could hear repeating gunfire from high-powered rifles, even explosions, that they believed were coming from SSNW's site.

At the time, D'Amico had been inviting military personnel and police officers onto the property for rifle and handgun training.

D'Amico challenged the county, saying his operation was "grandfathered," in before county zoning codes changed, and that shooting was legal in the Gardiner area.

The issue ended up before county Hearing Examiner Irv Berteig twice, before Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Craddock Verser twice, and was appealed to Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jay B. Roof.

Then, it went to the state Court of Appeals, which remanded the case back to the Kitsap Court and the Jefferson County hearing examiner.

The courts have established D'Amico's company as a legal nonconforming business that predated county zoning codes established in 1992.

The appeals court, however, asked that a Jefferson County hearing examiner determine the "scope and nature" of the business at that time.

When D'Amico admitted Jefferson County Department of Community Development staff on the site in 2005, they cited three buildings that he built without permits.

D'Amico was issued a stop-work order soon after, which led to a legal battle with Jefferson County -- throwing into question SSNW's grandfathered status and number of employees he could have on the site.

Previously, opposition has focused on the noise emitted from gunfire coming from the business.

In 2005, Jefferson County Environmental Health personnel, directed by the state Department of Ecology, which received a complaint at that time, attempted to gain access to the site, but were refused permission by D'Amico.

D'Amico said he didn't allow Environmental Health on the site, called Fort Discovery, because he was not obligated to do so.

The denial put Fort Discovery on Ecology's "confirmed and suspected contaminated site list."


Port Townsend-Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at jeff.chew@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 20. 2008 4:50AM
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