Last week I set out to learn how the recent approval in Pierce County of an ordinance protecting shooting ranges might affect the work being done in Kitsap on a similar topic. What resulted was a different story entirely. I learned the county hopes to have an expert come in to talk to its committee tasked with updating the shooting range ordinance. The expert will talk about sound and how it travels, and conduct sound studies at the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club, Poulsbo Sportmans Club and Bremerton Trap and Skeet Club.
The story that ran Sunday, Aug. 18, focused on the noise and not the action taken by the Pierce County Council. But while talking with committee members for that story I asked how the decision in our neighboring county might affect the work they’re doing.
It’s also a question that’s been posed by readers. Why didn’t Kitsap do what Pierce County did? I haven’t read the Pierce County ordinance, but I read both stories written by The News Tribune, which covered the vote. (Those stories can be read here and here.)
After reading the articles, it appears the measure was approved to protect the five gun ranges in Pierce County’s unincorporated area from potential noise and nuisance complaints and lawsuits. The TNT article cites the lawsuit between Kitsap County and the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club as an example. That lawsuit included noise complaints, but also safety concerns and land use allegations that the range expanded its operations without a county permit.
Kitsap’s Department of Community Development Director Larry Keeton said the Pierce County measure is a replica of legislation proposed in Olympia . Proposed in 2011, House Bill 1508 passed out of the house in February 2012 but hasn’t gained enough traction to get final approval. (Read a summary of the bill’s history at washingtonvotes.org.)
“One thing to be aware of in Pierce County, unlike Kitsap County, is their ranges don’t have the same issues necessarily that we do,” Keeton said.
He cited the Paul Bunyan Rifle and Sportsman’s Club, located near Graham, noting the club made a large financial investment by installing baffles to help reduce sound leaving the range and stray bullets.
After the Pierce County decision, Marcus Carter, KRRC executive officer, sent an email to the county requesting the information about the approval be circulated among the members of the shooting range ordinance update committee. Carter says he never received a response and hasn’t seen the information circulated via email like he asked.
“We’re following what happening in Pierce County,” he said of KRRC. “If the same thing had been enacted in Kitsap County it would have prevented the county from suing us.”
It’s doubtful Carter’s assertion that passing similar policy in Kitsap would have prevented the lawsuit because the suit filed against KRRC covered more issue than just noise concerns by neighbors.
Doug O’Connor, President of the Poulsbo Sportsman Club, thinks Pierce County’s action “preempted state law in the reverse order,” he said. “They’re doing more than what the state law proposes.”
Reviewing the ordinance at the committee level will “put another wrinkle into the deliberations, good, bad or indifferent,” he said. O’Connor, along with Carter and a representative from Bremerton Trap and Skeet sit on the committee with three county commissioner appointed representatives.
Committee chairman and Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Chief Gary Simpson has asked the county’s legal team to look into obtaining a copy of the policy approved in Pierce County. The document will be brought to the committee for discussion, Simpson said.
“We know it’s there, we know it’s something that’s different,” he said. “It’s something we’re going to want to investigate and look at how it is applicable to our discussions.”
You can click here to read the Pierce County ordinance — the bottom of the document list is where you’ll find the final document.
It was also brought to my attention that Kitsap County deputy prosecuting attorney Neil Wachter submitted comments to the Pierce County Council before members voted. Watcher clearly states in his comments to Pierce County that he’s offering comments as a private citizen and not in his legal capacity as counsel for Kitsap. He also lays out his expertise and involvement in the lawsuit against KRRC in his email, offering full disclosure.
“My comments made in the arena in Pierce County are strictly of those as a private citizen,” Wachter told me. He said it would have been irresponsible for him not to say something because of his legal experience and knowledge of the subject matter.