Rensselaerville citizens’ suit closes Park Police gun range

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

A training facility for State Park Police in Rensselaerville will no longer operate a firing range, according to the terms of the settlement of a suit brought by nearby residents.

​RENSSELAERVILLE — A Rensselaerville gun range, used for training State Park Police, will no longer be used after a lawsuit filed by town residents was settled last week.

The settlement, which was filed on March 28, includes an agreement to close the range indefinitely and to retract the negative declaration for the state environmental review — meaning the range would have little impact — that was issued for its construction, according to Dana Salazar. The settlement has not yet been signed by Rensselaer County justice, Henry Zwack.

Salazar, an East Greenbush-based attorney, represented the petitioners in the Article 78 proceeding, named after Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Laws and Rules, which is used by citizens to challenge decisions or actions made by government agencies. Salazar was formerly an employee of Tabner, Ryan, Keniry LLP., the law firm which represents the town of Rensselaerville.

The report required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act, known as SEQRA, was completed in August 2017. By late October into early November, neighbors were hearing gunfire from the range, Salazar told The Enterprise in December.

Randy Simons, a representative of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, confirmed the terms of the agreement. In response to emailed questions from The Enterprise, he added, “State Park Police have suspended all firing at the range, but continue to utilize the Academy facility for essential in-service and recruit training. State Parks has agreed to undertake a full SEQRA Review complete with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for any future projects on the site that include a firing range.”

Simons did not respond to follow-up questions asking if this meant State Parks plans to eventually have a firing range at the site.

The range was used at the Park Police Academy and Training Facility, located in the Rensselaerville State Forest. The parks office has used the remote, 30-acre site since 2008, several years after a juvenile detention center called Camp Cass closed down in 2004 after a kitchen worker there was raped and kidnapped at knifepoint by an inmate.

Pistols, shotguns, and AR-15 rifles would be the primary weapons used at the range, according to the description submitted for the environmental review. The description also said that 2.75 acres would need to be cleared of trees, and 10 stone-dust firing lanes — each 10 feet wide and 100 yards long — would be built.

The report said, too, that the range would be used two to four days a week, eight to 10 hours a day, from October through November and from February through March, for cadet training, and it could also be used by visiting groups.

The petitioners — Richard Amedure, Robert Brent Thompson, Shawn Styer, Barbara Rau, Robert U. Rau, John Haines, John Kudlack, and Isabela Burdujan — filed the Article 78 on Dec. 7 with Albany County. They all live within a mile of the state facility.

A hearing on the suit was held on Dec. 8 and Dec. 11, and it was agreed to cease operations at the firing range, starting Dec. 22 until a decision was made. The next court date was repeatedly adjourned.

Zwack reviewed the case due to the high number of supreme court cases in Albany County, according to a court employee in Zwack’s chambers, Jennifer Carl, who also said that a decision would be made by the judge without an open hearing; but the case was settled before a judgement was made.

Carl said, too, that Zwack as of Wednesday had yet to sign the settlement, which would make if official.

The plaintiffs argued that the negative declaration issued for the SEQRA was in error, stating that there was insufficient evidence to suggest the firing range would not affect nearby inhabitants or wildlife.

The lawsuit also touches on a lack of notification for the town, stating that a 2008 press release announcing the creation of a training facility does not mention the construction of a range; the state also did not notify town officials or the public, and did not seek a public review of the SEQRA, according to the suit. State and federal agencies are immune from local zoning laws.

The lack of public knowledge left Rensselaerville Town Board members aghast after they were informed by residents of the suit in December, not having been aware of the firing range.

The suit is critical of the operational monitoring and management plan created for the firing range — which was issued after the range was already constructed in the spring of 2017, according to the suit — because it “simply parrots the EPA’s guidance manual,” referencing the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s manual “Best Management Practices for Lead Outdoor Shooting Ranges.”

The suit suggests that the range did not follow this plan, as the range operated on steep slopes with clay soil over land with a shallow water table, which the manual states could increase risks of lead polluting groundwater.

Amedure, who is also the chairman of the town’s planning board, stated in the suit that Route 258 had been washed out and that animals have been disturbed by the noise.

Styer and Barbara Rau said that working from their homes had been made difficult by the shooting at the range. Styer had to make work calls from his basement due to clients on the other end of his line hearing gunshots, he said.

The suit also states that the range does not fit the “quiet rural character” that is expressed in the town’s comprehensive plan.

Corrected on April 10, 2018: Dana Salazar’s law-firm history was corrected to Tabner, Ryan, Keniry LLP.

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