HERRIMAN — Concerned residents turned out in droves to pack the seats, aisles and hallways of City Hall on Thursday night for a chance to voice their opinions on a proposed outdoor shooting range.
Residents sat through an extensive, hourlong presentation by city operations director Monte Johnson outlining safety and fire concerns, proposed range designs, environmental concerns and noise impact before public comment began. The room remained full to the end.
Public comment was almost evenly split between support and opposition. Residents were still weighing in on the issue at press time. It was unclear Thursday night whether the City Council would vote on the proposal or delay the decision to a future meeting.
Johnson's presentation was primarily meant to answer questions and dispel rumors about the gun range proposed near 15400 South and 4300 West, he said.
Prior to the meeting, Mayor Joshua Mills said the City Council had heard concerns from residents about noise, traffic and impact on home values. Many of those same issues were brought up during Thursday's public hearing.
The biggest concern, however, was safety from stray bullets and fires.
The proposal is especially important in light of a 50-acre land donation, worth an estimated $1.5 million, that has been offered for the range, Johnson said.
Council members were unwilling to immediately discuss who is donating the land, as well as donors behind land offers that had fallen through in the past, despite numerous questions from residents.
Bob Stanford identified himself as a property owner, a father and gun enthusiast, but he said he is "strongly opposed" to the range, specifically in light of proximity to homes.
"I can't comprehend why the city is driven on putting this so close to residential areas that aren't even developed yet," he said.
Stanford also questioned traffic impact and whether the city would have insurance for any accidents on the range, an issue Councilman Mike Day said he would be willing to address after the meeting.
In response to concerns about stray bullets, Johnson's presentation included maps of other gun ranges in northern Utah that abut neighborhoods, such as the Bountiful Gun Range and Spanish Fork Gun Club, which he said have experienced little or no complaints of errant shots.
Both ranges are near schools, similar to the proposed Herriman site, Johnson said.
He also described gun safety rules, eye and ear protection requirements and other carefully prepared gun safety procedures that would be in place during range operation.
Jay Carpenter drew a chuckle from the crowd when he announced that while his home isn't close to the proposed range, he wishes it was. Carpenter said he currently travels to the Lee Kay Gun Club near West Valley City to shoot.
"I'd like something a little closer to home," Carpenter said.
Blaine Anderson, another declared gun enthusiast and president of the Juniper Point homeowners association, was among those questioning whether discussion of the gun range had been transparent enough.
"You said you have been discussing this for a year, but the first time I heard of it was when you were doing your testing," Anderson said, referring to an October sound test.
City officials and residents conducted a test shoot in October in the foothills south of the city. It got mixed reviews from residents about noise disturbances from the shooters.
Johnson said the test presented a "worst-case scenario" for noise impact. Noise mitigation efforts at the range could include limited hours of operation, prohibiting exploding targets or cannons, limiting the size and caliber of weapons, and using dirt berms and trees to deflect and diffuse noise.
Lewis Adams, a competitive shooter, said he must shoot at least weekly to maintain his skills, which is difficult because of limited hours at the Lee Kay range. Adams said he supports the proposal and believes careful range management and construction would resolve most concerns expressed at Thursday's meeting.
"I think it would benefit the city. We need it," he said, offering to volunteer at the range and drawing a round of applause.
Johnson explained that wildfires were caused by high-grade weapons being shot in unimproved areas or areas that had not been cleared of vegetation. Shooting into a dirt backstop in a prepared area would prevent fires, he said.
Battalion Chief Clint Smith of the Unified Fire Authority was on hand to back up Johnson's explanation of fire risks.
Smith reported 28 fires burned the Lake Mountain Area in 2012, nine of which were caused by target shooting in unimproved areas where dry brush and plants can catch a spark.
Smith used the Dump Fire, which was caused by shooting explosive targets in an unimproved area, as an example. The Dump Fire burned 5,507 acres and cost $2.1 million to extinguish, he said.
Four improved shooting ranges along the Wasatch Front confirmed they had not experienced any fires being caused on their land, Smith said.