Residents hear from parks office about proposed range, other projects

Captain Walter Schedel

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Captain Walter Schedel of the state park police gestures toward the back of the now-closed firing range at the park police training facility in Rensselaerville. Wooden baffles slow stray bullets, he said, and others are collected in a berm. The concrete wall on the east side of the range is covered with netting to muffle sound.

RENSSELAERVILLE — A year after a lawsuit closed it down, the state parks office proposes reopening the gun range at its State Park Police Academy in Rensselaerville, along with undertaking a number of other upgrades. Residents both for and against the range attended public hearings held on March 27 at the facility, where they submitted comments and asked questions of parks department officials.

Approval process

Gaby Cebada-Mora, an environmental analyst for the department, said that the department is in the process of identifying potential impacts of the shooting range, including surface and groundwater pollution from lead, and noise pollution. The public hearings held last week will help identify what will need to be studied before a final plan is submitted for approval.

A draft scoping document has already been released that identified these issues, but a final scoping document will be released this spring that will take public comments into account. Public comments will be accepted until April 12.

Tegan Kondak, an environmental planner for the company Ecology and Environment Inc., hired by the parks department to conduct the studies, said that the scoping phase will determine the breadth of analysis to be discussed; this includes what studies should be conducted and what alternatives could be offered for a proposed project. Then a final scoping document will be produced based on public comments.

Janet Zuckerman-Bora, an environmental analyst for the department, said that they are looking for substantive public comments addressing issues and concerns.

“This isn’t a popularity contest,” she said.

She said that the positive declaration on the SEQR identified key issues including noise, human health, and water quality. Kondak noted that this indicates that it is possible but not definite that these impacts would occur.

Zuckerman-Bora and Kondak both emphasized that this new process was “starting fresh,” declining to comment on the negative declaration issued — meaning there would be little environmental impact — on a SEQRA for the gun range alone in 2017.

The lawsuit, settled a year ago, not only shut down the range but caused the negative declaration to be retracted. It was filed by Rensselaerville residents who were concerned about health issues and the noise from the guns disrupting their lives.

 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Bunks line the walls of a dormitory at the New York State Park Police training facility in Rensselaerville. 

 

Gun range and other proposals

The gun range, which was built in 2017, is located on the west side of the facility with its end pointing southwest so that the backs of the targets face Cheese Hill Road, leading the town supervisor to express concern that people traveling on Cheese Hill Road could be shot.

Captain Walter Schedel, the officer in charge of the academy and training coordinator, said that the floor of the range is about 25 feet above Cheese Hill Road, with a 35-foot earthen berm acting as a backstop between the range and the road. A concrete wall with netting for muffling sound borders the east side of the range, while an earthen berm sloping from 20 to 15 feet in height sits on the west side.

Schedel said that baffles, structures that place plywood in the air above the rear berm, are used to slow any bullets that may be shot too high into the air.

Schedel also said that the amount of lead in the rear berm is monitored using a “shot fall log” or logbook tracking the number of rounds fired. The berm is also given pH tests to ensure that the lead won’t leach into the water, he said. Stormwater is tested three times a year at an outflow drain running from the range into a culvert at the front. According to the proposed lead management plan for the range from the original SEQR, the ideal pH is between 6.5 and 8.5, preventing the lead from dissolving if the water is too acidic.

The range is 100 yards long and about 60 feet wide. During training, 10 recruits stand evenly across the width of the range, with each recruit and their instructor standing six feet apart.

There are approximately 40 recruits who come to the facility for one of two training sessions — from either October to April or November to May. They are split into two groups of 20 to train at the range for two weeks; from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. four days a week with one day of training after dusk for less than an hour.

Schedel said that the range was intended to be used for the almost always between Labor Day and Memorial Day, through the winter, when neighbors would be more likely to be inside.

Recruits are currently brought to Bear Mountain State Park in Rockland County to use the gun range there. He said it costs $52,000 for the four weeks recruits travel there.

“An indoor range, you have different problems,” Schedel remarked.

He said that, in an indoor range, bullets hit steel or concrete containers called bullet traps, but that the lead bullets can break apart and enter the air, and so a filtration system has to be put in place.

A building used currently for sewage treatment would be used instead for active shooter training; the facility would use a septic tank and leach fields instead, said Schedel. New dorms would be built, and the old ones would house classrooms instead, he said.

The facility had originally served as a juvenile detention center.

Currently, dorms are divided by gender, and instructors are housed separately from recruits but Schedel said, with so few female recruits, the space isn’t being used to full capacity. This year, three women are staying in a room for 10. The problem would be eliminated, he said, if the barracks-style dorms were replaced with suite-style dorms. Women currently also use temporary restrooms at the facility; permanent ones would have to be built.

 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Rensselaerville residents Doug Yeomans, left, and Keith Audino fill out public-comment forms during an informational session for proposed renovations at the state park police facility that may include reopening a firing range. They both think that the proposed projects at the range and the facility would benefit the town by bringing in jobs such as in construction. Audino added that it is good for the residents to get to know the recruits who come to the area.

 

Public’s thoughts

Residents at the forum were both for and against the firing range, and some were undecided.

In 2017, about a half-a-dozen neighbors of the facility filed an Article 78 lawsuit against the parks department for issuing a negative SEQR declaration on the range and constructing it. The lawsuit was settled by having the range closed. At least two of the petitioners were at last week’s hearings.

“I’m tickled about the turnout,” said Robert “Brent” Thompson, one of the petitioners. He was glad the forum gave everyone a chance to submit a comment but said that he would wait until closer to the deadline on April 12 to submit his.

Another petitioner, Shawn Styer, said that he would definitely be submitting some of his concerns, including that the current range is still a possible option. He would prefer that the parks department build an indoor facility, but he said that going off-site would be even better. He was additionally concerned about how many more people would be coming to the area during and after construction.

Resident Keith Audino said he thought the proposed range would benefit the town by bringing in construction jobs and would let residents get acquainted with the recruits.

“Rather see them as part of this town rather than ‘Officer Johnny Law,’” he said.

Kenneth Decker, a town resident and former emergency medical technician for Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance, used to work at the facility when it was known as Camp Cass, a juvenile detention center. He was in favor of the proposal, saying he was already impressed that the parks department established the facility here when the building “could have went in a heap.”

He said the police need to be trained so that they can protect people, and said that having the recruits see what Rensselaerville is like could draw people to visit the area.

“We have nothing in Rensselaerville anymore,” he noted.

“People deer hunt here; there’s guns shooting all the time here,” he added.

Edwin Lawson, Rensselaerville’s building inspector and code enforcement officer, said he would be submitting comments on behalf of the town, listing concerns heard from residents. Supervisor John Dolce said that the biggest concern is noise suppression.

“They know that there’s a problem with the noise suppression,” he said of the parks office. He added that the department seems to have an answer to this problem but doesn’t yet know the extent.

Lawson, of Westerlo, noted that what is being presented is merely conceptual.

“There’s nothing in stone,” he said.

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