Weber gun range critics fear lead contamination

Tuesday , December 03, 2013 - 10:40 AM

Cleared land shown near the western edge of the Kingfisher Wetlands loop in west Ogden. Weber...

Cathy McKitrick, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — An outdoor gun range proposed for the old Weber County landfill property near the Centennial Trail and Weber River has some residents concerned about potential lead contamination.

“After firing and firing, the concentration builds up in that area, and the lead has to go somewhere,” said Sam Vigil, a retired environmental engineer at Hill Air Force Base.

Vigil fears that constant use of the outdoor gun range — which proponents tout as a recreational amenity and economic boon to the Ogden area — could result in high levels of lead contamination, and then require massive cleanup.

“I wouldn’t approve it because of wildlife in the area,” Vigil said. “They’ll never come back.”

However, Vigil said that he would support the facility if it could be located in a less risky location.

For the past six months, a committee made up of Weber County officials and gun-sport representatives has scrutinized potential sites for a publicly owned shooting facility that will feature multiple shooting lanes for pistols, rifles and archery. The half-dozen depressed acres adjacent to the county landfill’s cap seemed perfect except that small portions of the Centennial trail and Kingfisher Wetlands loop will need to be rerouted.

Ogden senior planner Joe Simpson said that the proposed gun range could also interfere with connecting Ogden’s trail network to the Denver & Rio Grande trail in Roy, a link they’ve had in the works for years.

“Its a huge regional trail connection for us, and that’s concerning,” Simpson said.

During a committee meeting last week, Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson spoke of the need for such a facility and how it will boost area gun and ammo sales over the longterm.

“This is a recreation sector that has been underserved but the demand is astronomical,” Gibson said, citing the benefits of shooting in a controlled environment as opposed to the foothills where stray bullets can spark fires.

In addition, parents can introduce their kids to shooting when they’re young, Gibson added, who will then pour their own money into the sport when they grow up.

Besides that, the county-owned site selected for the new range is “garbage” land, Gibson said.

“There’s been no positive thing for us to do with it except to let the volunteer Russian olives (trees) take over and make an ugly mess out of it,” Gibson said.

Not all are enamored with the idea.

Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said the proposed range raises a significant red flag because “lead can be taken up by plants and it never goes away. It’s there for millions of years.”

“From the standpoint of public health, I wouldn’t let one of my kids go near the place,” Moench said. “Any activity that puts lead into the environment is a risk to you now and to people in the future.” Recent studies show a tight correlation between exposure to lead and loss of IQ points in teens, Moench said, and some research also links blood lead levels to juvenile delinquency and violent criminal behavior.

In November 2012, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued a bulletin about reducing exposure to lead and noise at outdoor firing ranges.

According to that document, an estimated 9,000 non-military outdoor ranges exist in the United States, with millions of pounds of lead from bullets shot each year.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires testing blood lead levels in gun range employees every six months, the bulletin said.

The Violence Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for tighter gun controls, warns that outdoor shooting ranges can poison wildlife and waterfowl that ingest lead pellets, and also put groundwater, wetlands and waterways at risk.

Gary Laird, Weber County’s solid waste director, who oversees the landfill, said that lead was his first concern when proponents first started talking about the range.

“They say they’ll harvest the lead periodically and it won’t be a problem leaching into the landfill,” Laird said. His staff already monitors the groundwater and river each quarter for lead and other contaminants.

“If we do have a problem, we have to go into a remediation stage,” Laird said, “and the first thing we’d have to do is shut down the gun range.”

Lead contamination will not be a problem, said Weber County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Jones, because of their planned containment trap that will run the length of the range’s impact zone.

The concrete sand-filled trap, similar to a large swimming pool, will catch the lead particles, which workers in safety gear will periodically sift out and recycle.

Lead tends to self-encapsulate in soil, Jones said.

“It doesn’t leach or run anywhere. That’s a myth.”

On Wednesday, the gun range proposal comes before the Ogden City planning commission at 5 p.m. for possible inclusion in the West Ogden Community Plan.

Wednesday’s meeting includes time for the public to sound off on the issue. The planning commission meets in the third floor council chambers of the Ogden Municipal Building, 2549 Washington Blvd.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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