BRIGHAM CITY -- A controversial rifle range's quest to seek a two-year operating permit will go before a public hearing.
The Box Elder County Commission will decide in early November whether to grant a two-year temporary use permit to Sniper Country, which operates a long-range firearms and training range in the hills above Plymouth and Portage, north of Brigham City.
The public hearing is not required under law, but commissioners wanted to give the public a chance to comment on the range. Commissioner Brian Shaffer said he had received some calls after a July competition that drew adventure-seeking shooters from around the country. However, earlier this month, the issue breezed through the county planning commission without a peep from the public.
"I don't know if everything has just settled," said Box Elder planner Scott Lyons. "For the (short-term) July permit change, we did get some negative comments; but we haven't for this (long-term) temporary use permit."
The public hearing will begin at 5:15 p.m. Nov. 7 in the commission offices, 1 S. Main St., Brigham City. The commissioners will collect residents' opinions about the 25,000-acre range.
Sniper Country spokesman Mike Davis said the company will host regular training classes on long-range target shooting, as well as other outdoors skills, such as map-reading and tracking. It's "just all around good outdoors stuff," he added.
If the two-year permit is granted, training classes will ramp up in early 2013.
"I can start doing some marketing," Davis said. "We've had everything on hold."
The two-year permit, Davis said, "gives us the freedom to know we can take bookings in advance, to have people buy flights and then not have to say, 'We can't do it.' "
That's what happened last summer when Denton John, a Portage rancher and adjacent landowner, disputed Sniper Country's road access to the range. Sniper Country has since received a court injunction allowing access.
Davis expects classes to begin in March after a schedule of outdoors-oriented trade shows in January and February at which the classes will be marketed.
The planning commission asked for more work to be done before it issues approvals on an existing log-cabin lodge, which sits on leased property adjacent to the range. Sniper Country wants to open the lodge for overnight stays during the training courses. Lyons said such issues as fire suppression regulations and handicapped access have yet to be addressed.
Sniper Country will work on the lodge over the next months. Davis expects the five-bedroom bunkhouse to add a homey "camaraderie" to the classes.
"It provides a unique training experience for people to sit down after class and talk about what they've learned," Davis said. "It improves the whole ambience of the class."
Davis said negative opinions about the firearms training facility stem from misconceptions about Sniper Country's goals.
"The biggest thing is that with the name 'Sniper Country' everyone thinks we're teaching people how to shoot people - and that's not what we're about."
Rather, Davis said, classes will focus on hunting and "field craft." Each class would have between eight and 10 people and cost about $1,350, according to the website of Sniper Country's owner, Desert Tactical Arms in Salt Lake City.
Davis said many of those who attend the training are "doctors and businessmen" from around the country.
"A lot of these guys have tens of thousands of dollars wrapped up in their equipment," he said. "We're just teaching them how to use it effectively."
Targets in the Broad Canyon area, west of the Interstate 15 exit near Washakie, stretch out to "1,000 yards plus," Davis said. Each target is designed with a 20-foot firebreak and angled away from homes or roads.
Commissioner LuAnn Adams said she came away from a July open house with a positive view toward Sniper Country.
"I was negative at first because of the concerns," she said earlier.
"But this is the kind of training our SWAT teams and police officers would go through; it's high-level training."
If Sniper Country receives the temporary permit, Davis said, "we can start working on the contracts we're working on with military agencies" and other potential customers.