Column: Shooting range cleanup questions

Last fall, the US Forest Service (USFS) released the “Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis for the Former Prescott Sportsmen’s Club Shooting Range” environmental analysis and invited public comment. On August 23, 2016 the Yavapai Group of the Sierra Club submitted comments. We received no response from either the project coordinator at Tonto National Forest or Prescott National Forest – no news until the Courier reported that the project was in progress. By failing to respond to commenters, the USFS deviated from normal practice and instead demonstrated a lack of professional courtesy and a failure of their responsibility to the public for transparency in public lands management.

The shooting range is on the western border of the Wildwood subdivision on Iron Springs Road, draining into Willow Creek.

The Sierra Club requested that the USFS analysis be withdrawn and revised. Although the cleanup proposal adequately documented why the Prescott Sportsman’s Club Shooting Range is a seriously contaminated site that must be cleaned up under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (commonly known as Superfund), the Sierra Club could not support any of the alternatives because the recovery and reuse of some or all of the lead was not considered, and because the costs were very high and should not be borne by a public agency alone.

Both the Forest Service and the Prescott Sportsmen’s Club are to blame for the terrible situation that has occurred on these public lands. There is no evidence that the USFS took adequate action years ago when contamination was first noted. The Forest Service should have provided the Club with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Best Management Guidance for Shooting Ranges and then required them to implement EPA’s suggested measures to prevent or remove lead contamination. It is clear that the Sportsman’s Club should have been required to do more than prevent runoff to surface water.

Gun clubs may be responsible for cleanup because under federal law and court rulings the party responsible for generating contamination is liable for the cleanup costs, and so are all subsequent owners of the polluted property: “The court concluded that lead shot and clay targets meet the statutory definition of solid waste because these materials were “discarded (i.e. abandoned)” and “left to accumulate long after they have served their intended purpose.” Further, the court concluded that based upon toxicity testing and evidence of lead contamination, the lead shot was a hazardous waste subject to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The important point is that discarded lead shot and clay target debris are considered solid waste and the facility may be subject to governmental or citizen suits. If, on the other hand, the discharged lead shot is recovered or reclaimed on a regular basis, no statutory solid waste would be present and imminent hazard suits would be avoided.

The contaminated soil contained a huge amount of lead! In some locations the lead contamination was almost 40,000 part per million (ppm) - a seriously contaminated site. Approximately 95% of the contaminated soil was identified as RCRA hazardous waste requiring treatment prior to disposal. It is important to clean it up but this must be done right. Our comments described in detail several companies that cost-effectively clean up contaminated gun ranges through the West, including removing small fragments of lead from soil.

The Sierra Club is concerned about public exposure that has occurred and continues to occur at this site. After cleanup, the Forest Service should restrict future use of the site until we know that the cleanup is successful because we do not know the impacts from leaving in place soils with 400 ppm. Off-site dust and water monitoring is needed to determine the effectiveness of the cleanup.

We recommended that the USFS examine its management practices for other shooting ranges on public lands. Range operators should be provided with the EPA manual, required to cleanup lead waste, and the USFS should monitor range operations.

The Prescott Sportsmen’s Club continues to operate at an Arizona Game and Fish Department shooting range in Chino Valley. Hopefully that range is better managed.

The Sierra Club now requests that the Prescott and Tonto National Forests explain why our comments were ignored, respond to our written concerns, and assure the public that the cleanup will be effective and safe. Additionally, the USFS should identify the funding source for the cleanup and explain to the public why taxpayer funds are being used to cleanup a mess left by a private organization on public lands.

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