PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County commissioners in a 2-1 decision have approved an ordinance addressing commercial shooting ranges in the unincorporated county.
Though the ordinance is approved, the yearlong moratorium on new shooting facilities commissioners implemented Dec. 17 is still in place.
Commissioners Kathleen Kler and David Sullivan voted in favor of the ordinance during a special meeting Friday, with Kler expressing fears of a lawsuit and both expressing opinions that the ordinance was far from perfect.
Commissioner Kate Dean voted against the ordinance, arguing it needed more “guard rails” to protect residents around shooting ranges.
“Us having to make decisions and policy under threat of lawsuits is not a real good way to do it,” said Kler before making a motion to approve an amended draft ordinance.
“It’s gambling and I don’t like to gamble,” Kler continued. “Is someone going sue or or not and the fact that there are several conversation about lawsuits, I’m stating publicly for the county, this is not a good way to operate.”
Chief Civil Prosecuting Attorney Philip Hunsucker told the commissioners prior to their vote that there is no “silver bullet” that will make all parties happy.
He told commissioners the ordinance needed to pass muster with state and federal regulations and cautioned that the more specific the ordinance becomes, the greater the risk of a lawsuit.
“This draft tries to steer a course away from that and get us further down the road,” he said.
Hunsucker emphasized the ordinance amends only Title 8 of the county code, which specifically addresses health and safety. While the ordinance says commercial shooting facilities are governed under Title 18 — which addresses land use — Hunsucker said there would be opportunities to address land use at another time.
“We have to take care to pass an ordinance that we believe is going to pass muster,” Hunsucker said. “I think we owe it to our citizens not to pass an ordinance we have significant concerns about whether it will pass muster and waste resources of the community on a lawsuit.”
Dean, who said the ordinance isn’t enough, said she discussed it with Hunsucker.
“I think it sounds as though the degree as to which I would want to take it, the risk seems very high to him and I take very seriously that assessment,” she said. “Part of this comes down to how much faith do you have in the processes that exist, such as [Conditional Use Permit] and [State Environmental Policy Act].”
Among the provisions added to the ordinance was a requirement that no shooting take place after dark, except by law enforcement or members of the military.
The provisions allows for night training to happen for a maximum of four hours and only one day per week. Shooting cannot occur after 10 p.m.
At the request of Sullivan, the commissioners removed a provision that would address false reporting. Kler opposed removing the provision that allowed law enforcement to not expedite responses on reports from people who frequently file false reports.
Sullivan said the county needs to address false reporting on a larger scale than just within the shooting range ordinance.
He said the issue of false reporting seems to be emerging issue nationwide, especially in regard to black people.
“People are reporting things … like driving while colored, gardening while colored or having kids in the park,” Sullivan said. “We haven’t had these kinds of things here.”
Sullivan said Saturday if he were to say that statement again, he would use the word “black” instead of “colored,” citing news stories in which people are reported for “driving while black.”
Members of the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association had expressed concerns during public hearings that the draft as written previously would cause a financial burden to JCSA.
Commissioners were told the ordinance would cause the JCSA to close.
Efforts to reach Julia Towne, secretary of the JCSA, were unsuccessful Saturday.
The moratorium in place against shooting facilities was unanimously approved by the three commissioners last year after Joe D’Amico, owner of Fort Discovery, proposed a new gun range and training facility: the Cedar Hills Recreational Facility.
“We thank the Board of County Commissioners for coming to an agreement and passing a Commercial Shooting Facilities ordinance, so we can get on with our business of training first responders, security officers and others who protect and serve our communities and our nation,” D’Amico said in a statement.
“We look forward to working with our neighbors and customers in mitigating impact by scheduling hours of use appropriately.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].