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Lead found next to Ashland gun club

The city of Ashland may have to spend $75,500 and give up a parcel of its own land after environmental testing revealed lead shotgun pellets from the Ashland Gun Club have contaminated neighboring property.

James Miller, who owns 12 rural acres between the gun club and Emigrant Creek, has proposed selling his contaminated land to the city for $65,000 and 3.8 acres of rural city land located west of his property.

Additionally, the city would have to pay $10,500 in surveying, plat preparation and Jackson County planning fee costs.

The City Council will consider the offer during its 7 p.m. meeting today in the Ashland Civic Center, 1175 E. Main St.

In a memo to council members, Engineering Services Manager Scott Fleury said the deal would be a fair and equitable solution to a potential legal liability for the city.

The city already has spent at least $113,080 in the past few years on environmental testing related to the gun club, which has operated on city-owned land since 1968.

The city paid the California firm Brown and Caldwell $64,000 in 2010 for environmental testing.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality then said the lead testing was inadequate because samples were taken well short of where most ammunition falls on the shooting ranges.

In November 2011, the City Council reluctantly authorized paying JBR Environmental Consultants Inc. $49,080 for more testing.

JBR discovered heavy lead deposits on the majority of Miller's 12 acres, according to a city staff memo to councilors.

"The deposits are the results of years of shotgun firing from the club's trap and skeet ranges, as both of these ranges are directed toward the Miller property," the memo said.

While shotgun pellets can travel 750 feet, Miller's property line is just 300 feet away from the firing line, the memo said.

Steel shot has been required for the past year, but a large accumulation of lead shot remains from past years, the memo said.

Miller made his offer to sell his land to the city in exchange for $65,000 and the city-owned parcel in May.

An appraiser found that the offer would be a fair exchange for Miller's 12 rural acres, which come with irrigation rights, according to the staff memo.

Miller's land must be valued as if it is not contaminated by lead to avoid the appearance of collusion on the part of the city, the memo said.

By purchasing the land, the city could not be sued by Miller and forced via a lawsuit to clean up the land, according to city documents.

The gun club has long leased the city-owned land on which it operates. It is situated east of town off Emigrant Creek Road.

The Miller land could be added to that lease. The gun club would then bear the responsibility of regularly harvesting lead from the land, managing the property and bearing the ultimate cleanup costs, according to the city staff memo.

The current lease already requires that the gun club pay for final cleanup costs of the existing site.

DEQ does not require a cleanup of the site unless it ceases operating as a gun club.

A 2011 worst-case-scenario estimate put cleanup costs at $950,000.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit by three neighbors opposed to gun club operations is continuing to work its way through the system.

No court dates have been set yet, said city Attorney David Lohman.

Neighbors Cathy DeForest, Leon Pyle and Dr. Edward Kerwin filed a lawsuit in December 2011 against the gun club and city of Ashland stating that club operations violate environmental laws and are a noise nuisance. Kerwin has said bullets also strike his property.

Lohman said he is not aware of any lead contamination on the property of those neighbors. He said he has not seen any evidence of bullets striking Kerwin's land.

Lohman said he doesn't think the discovery of lead contamination on Miller's land, which abuts Emigrant Creek, adds weight to the three neighbors' legal argument that the gun club is violating environmental laws.

Tom Dimitre, attorney for the three neighbors, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Miller said he does not grant interviews.

The Ashland Police Department, a National Guard unit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory, National Park Service rangers, hunter's education classes, Boy Scout troops, history buffs and others use the gun club facilities along with members.

Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.