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$10,000 in grants in limbo as gun club awaits 10-year lease

ASHLAND — Two organizations have wanted to award the Ashland Gun Club nearly $10,000 in grants for improvements since 2004, but the club's inability to get a long-term lease with the city is holding the money in limbo.

Chuck Parlier, gun club president, approached the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission in February 2004 when he learned the funds were contingent on the club having at least a 10-year lease in place. The commission manages the lease for the city.

In 2004, the club wanted the lease, which expires May 31, 2009, to be extended to 2029 to secure the grants from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Friends of the National Rifle Association for improvements including a lead cleanup project.

"We want to become an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) certified outdoor range," Parlier said.

Ten berms in question are three-sided walls of compacted dirt built to keep bullets on the range site. The club wants to hire Larry Stockman, owner of Northwest Shot in Phoenix, to do the cleanup at a cost of several thousand dollars.

Lithia Springs water from the Pompadour Chief Spring on the gun club site is pumped to the drinking fountain at Lithia Park, when that fountain is working.

Jim Olson, interim director of Ashland public works, said Lithia Springs water gets tested once a year and a recent testing showed safe levels of a number of minerals but no lead.

At the commission meeting in February 2004, neighbors voiced their concerns about the noise, especially during National Guard and police training sessions that include night training. The Ashland Historic Commission also expressed concern about historic features on the site, including the Ashland Springs pump and remnants from an old dry ice plant that was razed in 1955.

The parks commission and historic commission toured the gun club site in April 2004. Former City Attorney Mike Franell said once the gun club and the parks commission agreed on a lease agreement, the City Council would consider it for approval and seek public comment.

Club member Mike LaNier said the club has made several changes to its lease agreement in negotiations with the parks commission.

"We're now only asking for a 10-year extension and we've changed our hours to address neighbors' concerns," LaNier said. "There is, however, a disclaimer for state and local police and the National Guard, because they do have to do night training."

In a memo dated Sept. 15, 2004, Don Robertson, director of the city's parks and recreation department, said once the lease got ironed out he sent it to the city attorney, who has since left that job.

Robertson said some neighbors have complained about the club's hours. "People like to sleep in on Sunday mornings and shooters like to shoot when there's no wind, which is usually early mornings," said Robertson. "The gun club has been there for decades and decades. And people built their homes knowing the shooting range was there. These are the issues that are going to come up at the City Council."

Since the issue came up in 2004, the city has had two city administrators and two city attorneys. Still, City Administrator Martha Bennett said she understands the gun club's frustration.

"This funding opportunity came up for them and I understand there were some meetings with the neighbors," Bennett said. "They were told in 2005 by someone that we'd get right on this. But since that time our legal department has experienced a 100 percent turnover. We have 12 or 13 active legal cases and right now we just don't have the staff to cope with this right now."

The Ashland Gun Club has about 400 family memberships. Many use the range for handgun and rifle practice, as well as skeet, trap and archery practice. The Ashland and Talent police departments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensic Lab, Oregon Army National Guard, United Hunters and Sportsmen, Ashland Archers and Jefferson State Regulators hold training sessions at the club. Gun safety classes as well as concealed weapons certification training are taught at the club, too.

First Sgt. James Couch with the Army National Guard in Ashland said without the range, they'd have a problem with training.

"We use the facilities about three times a year," Couch said. "We have an indoor range but it's a pistol caliber only. We use rifles, so we need to practice on a rifle range. The nearest army facility is Camp Adair, north of Corvallis. That's quite a long drive for us."

Ashland Daily Tidings staff reporter Michele Mihalovich can be reached at 482-3456, Ext. 226, or mmihalovich@dailytidings.com.