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Rob Raby takes aim at the Ashland Gun Club on Wednesday. The Ashland City Council Tuesday night approved a 10-year lease extension of city-owned land to the gun club. - Jamie Lusch

Ashland Gun Club's land lease extended

ASHLAND — Faced with the prospect of a nearly million-dollar cleanup if it took back the property, the City Council on Tuesday approved a 10-year extension of a lease of city-owned land to the Ashland Gun Club.

The new agreement will require the gun club to regularly remove lead from the grounds and will put final responsibility for the site's cleanup on the club instead of the city.

The club has leased about 32 of 65 acres the city owns near the Ashland Municipal Airport since 1968.

City Councilman Russ Silbiger said the issue came down to whether Ashland is better off with the gun club using the property. He said for liability, safety and environmental reasons, he believes the city is better off having the gun club at the site.

"We're better off working with the gun club," Silbiger said Tuesday night.

If use of the site changes, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality would require a full cleanup. Costs to the city could be as high as $950,000, JBR Environmental Consultants Inc. told city officials earlier this year.

If the gun club regularly gathers up lead, that would reduce final costs of a cleanup of the land if it ever changes uses, city staff said.

The city will get lead testing results from ranges, berms, wetlands, groundwater and other areas and then devise a schedule for lead gathering and recycling that will have to be followed by the gun club.

Councilwoman Carol Voisin cast the lone vote against the lease approval.

She said a schedule for regular lead gathering and recycling should have been in place before council members approved the lease.

In 2010, the city paid $66,398 for the California-based Brown and Caldwell consulting firm to test for lead on the property, but DEQ later said the testing was flawed because the firm didn't check areas where the most ammunition falls to the ground.

This year, the city had Utah-based JBR Environmental Consultants work with the environmental agency to devise a DEQ-approved testing plan.

Nearly two-dozen area residents turned out at Tuesday's meeting to speak on the issue.

Proponents said the gun club is used by 1,000 valley residents and also the Ashland Police Department, an Ashland-based National Guard unit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory, National Park Service rangers, hunter's education classes, Boy Scout troops, history buffs and others.

But others said lead has contaminated the land, nearby wetlands and the Emigrant Creek area, and poses a danger to humans and wildlife, including birds and coho salmon.

On July 1, attorney Tom Dimitre, who is also chairman of the Rogue Group Sierra Club, sent a registered letter to city officials notifying them that neighbors Leon Pyle, Cathy DeForest and Edward Kerwin intend to sue the city of Ashland and the gun club for violating environmental laws.

Dimitre wrote that the intent of the letter was to encourage the start of talks with the aim of eliminating "illegal discharges and disposal practices" at the gun club. The three plaintiffs will sue if the situation is not resolved in 90 days, he wrote.

Gun Club President Chuck Partier of Ashland, who was named in Dimitre's letter, said on Wednesday that he doesn't know yet how the club will respond if it is sued. He said people who have built expensive homes near the gun club are now trying to shut it down after decades of operation.

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

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