Will Ashland pull the trigger and renew lease of gun club?

ASHLAND — Shutting down the Ashland Gun Club and cleaning lead from the property could cost the city up to $950,000 if council members decide not to renew the club's lease of city-owned land.

Meanwhile, neighbors opposed to gun club operations have threatened to sue the city if the council approves a long-term lease that would let the club continue using 32 acres near the Ashland Municipal Airport.

The gun club has retained its own legal counsel and asked for a delay on the lease signing while members review lease terms.

Last week, the City Council voted to approve a three-month lease extension and to take up the increasingly contentious issue of a long-term lease on May 3. If the city shuts down the gun club, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality would require a cleanup of lead on the property, which has been used by the club since 1968.

The city of Ashland hired Utah-based JBR Environmental Consultants Inc. to develop cost estimates for the lead cleanup.

Costs could be as high as $950,000 if the city is required to achieve the most stringent standard, and if most of the removed dirt has to be hauled to an Arlington disposal site east of The Dalles. That is the only landfill in Oregon that can take certain types of waste material, said Ashland Facilities Supervisor Mike Morrison.

"This is the expected worst-case scenario and it is unlikely that we would have to achieve this standard and haul all the removed material to Arlington," Morrison said.

If the gun club lease is not renewed, the city would shoulder all of the cleanup costs, he said.

City legal staff have proposed a new lease agreement that would make the gun club responsible for regularly scheduled lead recovery from the property. The gun club also would take on the responsibility of the final lead cleanup from soil and wetlands on the site if the lease ever expires or is terminated.

Regularly scheduled lead recovery would reduce final cleanup costs, Morrison said.

The amount of contamination from lead ammunition used at the site is unknown.

The city paid $66,398 in 2010 for an environmental study by California-based Brown and Caldwell. The firm said that lead impacts on wildlife and habitat were within acceptable ranges but also recommended more testing.

However, DEQ said in January that the lead testing was flawed. Brown and Caldwell didn't take soil and groundwater samples from the areas where most ammunition falls to the ground.

At a cost to the city of $8,050, JBR Environmental Consultants is developing a new lead testing plan that will be reviewed by DEQ. Once DEQ approves that plan, more money will be required for further environmental study, city staff members said in a memo to the council this month.

Dr. Edward Kerwin has threatened to sue every member of the City Council, as well as the city government and the gun club, if council members approve a lease of more than one year without having the results of the further environmental testing recommended by DEQ and Brown and Caldwell.

Kerwin, founder of the Allergy & Asthma Center of Southern Oregon, owns a home, vineyard and winery near the gun club.

He said in a March 1 letter to city officials that the council has a duty to protect city land from contamination.

Kerwin also said he would sue any council member who votes on the issue if that council member has ever been a member of the Ashland Gun Club or any gun club, has ever fired a weapon there, or has any friends, family members or long-term acquaintances who are members of the Ashland Gun Club.

Gun club neighbor Cathy DeForest also has threatened to sue, saying in a Feb. 28 email to city officials that renewing the lease is environmentally and financially irresponsible. She said the gun club leases 32 of 66 acres of city land for just $1 per year. Their use of part of the land makes the rest of the property unsafe for others.

Leon Pyle, who lives inside Ashland, likewise threatened to sue the city in a Feb. 28 email. He raised concerns about the use of lead ammunition at the gun club.

In addition to addressing environmental concerns, the proposed lease seeks to reduce noise impacts on neighbors by banning the use of semi-automatic weapons when they are used on the automatic setting.

Hours would be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or sunset, whichever comes earlier, Mondays through Fridays.

Shooting couldn't begin until 9 a.m. on weekends and would end at 8 p.m. or sunset, whichever comes earlier.

The Ashland Police Department could use the gun club outside of normal hours.

The club has about 400 family memberships and its users include APD, the National Guard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory and hunters' safety class students.

The proposed lease also calls on the gun club to offer a weekend of free access to nonmembers so that hunters can adjust the sight on their weapons before deer and elk hunting seasons.

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

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