PORT TOWNSEND — The sound of automatic weapons fire filled the Superior Court. Stone-faced, Noah Frisch stood before the crowd, turning his body slowly around to let his cellphone emit the recorded racket.
Frisch, a Chimacum resident, said he’d found the recording on YouTube, and used it to make a point about a local possibility.
He was one among more than 50 men and women — from a crowd of nearly 200 — who went to the microphone Monday night during the Jefferson County commission’s courthouse hearing on a one-year moratorium, enacted Dec. 18, on commercial shooting ranges, expanded or new.
The chief civil deputy for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Trevor Hansen, said he’d never seen a turnout this size in Port Townsend.
And though the commissioners will accept public comment through 4:30 p.m. this Friday, no one seemed interested in leaving the packed room.
Written comments on the moratorium may be sent to [email protected] or to the Commissioners’ Office, P.O. Box 1220, Port Townsend, WA 98368.
Participants began arriving at 5 p.m., an hour before the hearing start time. Jim Smith of Quilcene stood inside the courthouse door handing out signs, buttons and stickers expressing support for the moratorium, which was enacted following Joe D’Amico’s proposal for a shooting and archery range on 40 acres near Tarboo Lake, a few miles from Quilcene.
D’Amico, operator of the former Fort Discovery gun range on Discovery Bay — which he shut down in October — has moved buildings from that facility to the Tarboo land he purchased in September. The facility would train local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, private citizens and diplomats, D’Amico has said.
County officials have said that the moratorium — which by law had to be followed with a public hearing within 60 days of approval — was in response to public concerns about commercial shooting ranges, including but not limited to D’Amico’s proposal.
Jefferson County commissioners have agreed to enter into mediation with Fort Discovery Inc., over what the moratorium on new shooting ranges means for D’Amico’s proposed Tarboo facility.
Supporters of the Tarboo facility, including D’Amico’s attorney and corporate officer, stood at Monday’s hearing beside the badge-wearing members of the Tarboo Ridge Coalition, the group of homeowners hoping to keep the shooting range out of their lives.
They gave a litany of reasons why: the sound of automatic rifles throughout the day and evening, the danger of far-ranging ammunition, deterrence of agritourism on local farms, lead pollution, home values they believe are sure to fall.
“When we talk about lead poisoning, the impacts of gun noise, the risk of stray bullets and even how to preserve our property values,” said Old Tarboo Road resident Teri Hein, “that which ties all this together is our wish for a certain kind of world.”
To Hein and those who turned out in support of the moratorium, that world is a peaceful one, where rural life means farm fields, forests filled with birds and lakes rich with fish.
To others, rural Jefferson County is a place where there’s room for a recreational and training weapons facility, possibly with two helicopter landing pads.
“Shooting ranges are a fact of rural life,” and always will be, said Jay Towne of Port Townsend.
“If you don’t like shooting in your area,” he added, “I suggest you move to Marin County, California.”
In that San Francisco Bay Area county of 254,643 people, density is at 485 residents per square mile. Jefferson County’s population of 30,466 is spread out to 17 residents in a square mile.
Tarboo Ridge Coalition supporter Susan Freeman, holding up a thick sheaf of papers, told the commissioners they contained 1,200 signatures on a petition supporting the moratorium.
Many who signed own and use guns, she added, but are concerned about “the irrevocable negative impacts” of a large shooting range on people, animals wild and domestic, and highways 101 and 104.
D’Amico’s proposed range, named the Cedar Hills Recreational Facility, will be relatively isolated, “harmonious and appropriate,” said Fort Discovery’s Justine Wagner. A few in the courtroom laughed softly.
Building the facility will, Wagner added, keep dead-end roads from becoming shooting ranges, thus protecting the neighbors.
Pat Stroble, who lives near the proposed range, called himself the “PTSD poster child,” a Vietnam veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who “chose the Tarboo Valley for its quiet beauty.”
He has a thriving beekeeping business — but neither he nor the bees will continue to do well amid the “gunfire, helicopters and explosions” that could come with a nearby shooting range.
Across the United States, rural counties are struggling to revitalize, said Scott Freeman, author of the recently published “Saving Tarboo Creek: One Family’s Quest to Heal the Land.”
“I see Jefferson County as a county that’s getting it right,” with its small farms and working forests, he said.
Freeman expressed strong support of the shooting range moratorium as a way to keep getting it right.
After dozens of speakers — including several self-professed gun owners — had spoken for and against the moratorium, one more man stepped forward.
“I’m fourth-generation,” said Joe D’Amico, adding that he’s operated Fort Discovery for 30 years.
D’Amico assured the commissioners that if permitted to build the new range, “we’re going to take care of our lead [bullets],” and “we’re looking at concrete barriers” like those around the country’s freeways.
Think carefully about what the moratorium will do to the county, D’Amico said.
“It’s going to cost the county a lot of money,” he said.
“That’s not a threat,” he said, but Monday’s hearing alone has already cost him plenty, since he brought his attorney and staff in to speak.
“A lot of people are scared” of the Tarboo plan, but “we haven’t had the opportunity to give the plan,” he added.
“It’s too early to start panicking about noise.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.