San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

November 25th, 2009
County still looking at shooting/habitat combo

Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley, left, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford, right, during a discussion about a countywide shooting range. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Despite a cool reception from a federal agency and a local citizens parks advisory board, Hays County commissioners are considering using some or all of the remaining approximately $8.4 million in parks bond money to buy at least 250 acres of endangered bird habitat co-located with more than 300 acres of land suitable for shooting ranges.

The county needs to control at least 250 acres of Vireo or Warbler habitat to initiate a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). Tuesday, the Hays County Commissioners decided to allow the Hays County Shooting Sports Task Force (SSTF) to review all 15 applications for easement or land purchases for habitat conservation. The SSTF would determine which of applications are most suitable for shooting ranges.

“The shooting range people are applicants,” said Hays County Parks and Open Space Advisory Board (POSAB) President Chris North Tuesday evening. “And so (is the county) going to send a copy of all 15 applications to all 15 applicants? It’s bizarre.”

Though the court does not legally need the blessing of the residents it appointed to the POSAB, the court does need the approval of United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in order to initiate a Regional Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP).

At the end of September, FWS all but told the county that it is not interested in placing a shooting range in land designated for habitat preservation.

“I keep hearing these rumors that Hays County is looking to purchase a parcel that would serve as both a habitat preserve pursuant to the RHCP and firing range,” wrote Allison Arnold of FWS’s Austin ecological services field office in a Sept. 30 email to two county commissioners, the county’s consultant Loomis Partners, Inc., Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) officials and other FWS officials. “If there is any truth to this, I think it would be wise to have a discussion about it before anyone makes any fiduciary commitments (sic). The Service generally does not support this type of arrangement … ”

Under the HCP, the county would purchase or obtain conservation easements for between 10,000 and 15,000 acres of Golden-Cheeked Warbler or Black-Capped Vireo habitat during the next 30 years. Participation in the HCP would allow public and private entities in Hays County to more cheaply and quickly obtain “incidental take authorization.” Those whose otherwise lawful activities may cause significant harm to endangered species are required under federal law to first acquire incidental take authorization.

The commissioners court tasked POSAB months ago with developing scoring criteria to assess the suitability of HCP project proposals. POSAB has not yet begun scoring the HCP proposals, but it may complete its work for the commissioners court’s review by the end of January.

“The parks board is not supportive of putting a firing range on HCP land,” North said Tuesday. “I can say that will all certainty.”

Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) demonstrated the strongest support for co-locating a shooting sports complex with endangered bird habitat. The commisioner who is least receptive is Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs), though she did not — and has never — indicated she would vote against purchasing a property planned for co-location.

At Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting, Hays County Grants Administrator Jeff Hauff informed court members of POSAB’s opposition to co-location.

“I’m really convinced that if every member of the parks and open space board had had the opportunity to sit through the many hours of discussion we’ve had in court, they’d have a pretty good understanding of where we’re trying to go, and would pretty comfortable with it, because it’s a pretty common-sense approach for looking for opportunities to share,” Barton said.

Conley said POSAB’s lack of support for co-location arises from “a tremendous amount of lack of understanding and education.” Conley shared Barton’s view that POSAB members might support the co-location concept if they knew more about the issue.

The approximately $8.4 million in parks bond money is left over from the $30 million approved by voters in May 2007. The commissioners court, shortly after the bond election, tasked POSAB’s earlier incarnation, the County Parks Advisory Team (CPAT), with recommending worthy projects for bond funding. CPAT threatened to disband itself in February due to what its members perceived was a lack of regard to their recommendations by the commissioners court.

Ever since the county began expending the bond funds, CPAT objected that too much bond money went to recreation projects, which the board claimed was a deviation from the bond language as it appeared on the May 2007 ballot. After CPAT threatened to disband, commissioners reorganized the advisory board and maintained a moratorium on allocating the remaining $8.5 million in bond funds. The moratorium was lifted on Oct. 2, when the county sent out the call for HCP projects.

FWS awarded the county a $753,750 grant to help develop the HCP and the county provided $251,250 in matching funds. The county has paid about $240,000 in consultant fees to develop the HCP.

SSTF Vice Chair J.B. Kolodzey urged commissioners to allow his group to carry out its assigned role and inspect the 15 sites proposed by respondents of the HCP call for projects.

Kolodzey said after Tuesday’s meeting that the shooting sports complex, which SSTF members have said should be at least 380 acres, would be an economic boon to the county. The proposed shooting sports facility would offer ranges for archery, air rifle and pistol, benchrest, shotgun clay games, target and silhouette and muzzle-loaders both antique and modern.

Kolodzey said the shooting sports complex would be able to host many state and national competitions that could attract thousands of  non-resident visitors — including contestants, their families, and vendors — to Hays County every year. A nonprofit corporation, Texas Shooting Sports Complex (TSSC) has offered to foot the bill for the cost of construction, operation, and maintenance of the facility, which would remain under the ownership of the county. TSSC proposes to build and maintain the shooting sports complex through the acquisition of grants and through user fees, range and course fees and special events.

North said all members of POSAB want a shooting sports complex in Hays County, just not near habitat conservation land.

“We’re not going to put a shooting range in the middle of a habitat area,” Conley said Tuesday evening. “But many times properties that we’re looking at have some pieces of it that are really good and give us a lot of qualifications for habitat and pieces that don’t have any, that don’t have any recharge features on it. If you look at our habitat conservation plan, the ideal situation is to have 500 acres of prime habitat and then have several hundred acres of a zone around it. And, so, under the right conditions, with the right property, I think it can make sense.”

Conley said he would push strongly for maximum public access to land the county acquires under the HCP. The public would probably be prohibited from using the HCP land during the birds’ nesting seasons, which occur from early to mid-March to the end of July.

“As the county moves forward in this direction, it certainly means that the county is going to have to make sure that the property maintenance and supervision are provided to those properties,” Conley said. “That means that we cannot do that with current staff.”

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22 thoughts on “County still looking at shooting/habitat combo

  1. I don’t know but $8.4 mil.? In these times where $ is in short fall. At least from what I read and hear in the media. It just seems like this money is better spent elsewhere. I understand we voted for these bonds for parks. I guess that’s why I’m not in authority or power. Choose wisely my fellow Jedis.

  2. this is the stupidest thing I have ever seen. Now we have a bunch of folks, none of whom have a sufficient background in biology, geology or any of the environmental sciences telling the people who have been working on the parks board for a number of years that they dont understand this and that if they did it would be OK. USFWS said no. What is it about no do these people not understand ? Anyone who wants to argue with me that this sort of facility would pose no harm to the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone needs to have a sufficient background in karst, carbonate geology, groundwater hydro/contaminant transport to actually sign and seal a report stating such. Until someone with this expertise comes along all areas on the EAqRZ can be considered off limits to any such land use. Why o why are we wasting so much time on this ? the POSAB has a lot of very important stuff to be doing and does not have time to waste with this.

  3. @Andy. Why are the unelected POSAB members the only people entitled to an opinion? The facility’s environmental impact would be assessed before any funding, and if the threat posed to the EA were found too high by those who do such assessing (probably not you), it wouldn’t happen. The USFWS did not say no, they said they wanted to be consulted before the County signed-off on anything, and of course, the County will consult with the USFWS.

    I appreciate the POSAB members time and service, but they advise the commissioner’s (hence the “A” in POSAB). The idea that some unelected volunteers from the community have some dictatorial say on the bond funds is laughable. As Conley and Barton said, it is possible that some tracts could lend themselves to division between HCP and shooting range uses. If the range threatens the habitat, it is not compatible and won’t happen. There is no reason to cut off all consideration by seeing shadows.

  4. Is there something that prevents the county commissioners and POSAB from meeting together for a workshop or something? If the commissioners believe that POSAB would support the facility, if they were better educated, why not meet with them and go over the details?

  5. I think it would be wise and educational to understand the facts and the advantages to the County and the residents before expressing opinions.
    The property divisions would be well thought out and the habitat and shooting areas would not be invasive of each other. The county needs the conservation habitat credits and the residents need a controlled area for recreational, instructive(Texas Parks and Wildlife ) and competitive shooting sports. There are over 25 million shooting sports members in the country and Texas has a very high percentage of these in Sporting Clays, 4H Shotgun Competitions, Skeet-Trap and other allied events.

  6. “TSSC proposes to build and maintain the shooting sports complex through the acquisition of grants and through user fees, range and course fees and special events.”
    = the county left holding the bag when they run out of funds. Even if TSSC can convincingly demonstrate that they have the funds, expertise, and business model that shows they can pull this off, it is still a bad idea and a misuse of bond funds. That our commissioners are even considering this issue speaks volumes.
    And why are the commissioners spending so much money on consultants? If they hired competent staff they wouldn’t need consultants. Instead, they’re paying a Road Engineer $120,000/year to run Environmental Health. That says a lot about their commitment to Hays County’s environmental integrity.

  7. I can assure Commissioner Conley that the Hays County Parks and Openspace Advisory Board (POSAB) has an ample amount of “understanding and education.” I am disappointed to read the Commissioner considers the POSAB so unqualified to carry out it’s charge.

    This proposed partnership of a shooting range with habitat conservation lands is simply untenable for economic, environmental, and administrative reasons too numerous to list here. The cost of acquisition for the number of acres needed to support the project, including a “buffer” to the minimum 300 acre facility, is prohibitive.

    Sensitive wildlife will not co-habitate with a shooting facility, and USFWS will not “go for it”.
    Andy Grubbs is right.

    The Court voted to allocate the remaining parks bond monies to begin the implementaion of our Habitat Conservation Plan, which has yet to be approved by USFWS.

    A shooting range is a good idea for all the reasons given by it’s proponents. It is a special project geared to a small “targeted” constituency, and will require much more than identifying and purchasing the right tract of land. I don’t want to pay for it with what little parks bond money is left for habitat conservation land acquisition. The two projects should not be considered together.

    Chris North
    Chair, HCPOSAB

  8. usfws said no. This is not the time to keep debating this with them

    I started to do this type of environmental work in 1977 and have seen edwards aquifer protection come a very long way since Texas water development board issued rule 156.20 in 1981, back when it was the Edwards underground water district. It is just not possible to find a suitable site for this use on the recharge zone. There are prohibited land uses on the zone like confined animal feeding operations and land farming, they are prohibited for reasons. The Edwards aquifer is and remains the sole source aquifer that 1.5 million Texans rely on for their daily drinking water. If a shooting range is such a good idea then it ought to be able to stand alone by itself. The objection here is to the ludicrious proposal to combine habitat preserves with such a obviously incompatible land use.

    do you like the volunteer fire stations on Hilliard road and RR 12 ? I did not only the geologic assessments for them I also did the entire edwards plans and charged the fire districts about 20% of what a big company out of Austin would. I know most of the other geologists who do this work, I trained a couple. It is widely known what quality of work comes from the various sources.

    There are a lot more important things that people need to be spending their time on. The last thing we need to do is give USFWS the idea that we are a unreliable partner in a HCP. The grant money can so easily go somewhere else.

  9. Andy – What is the risk to EA from a shooting range? Certainly any lead can be contained in a small area and insulated from the aquifer.

  10. This is without a doubt the most ridiculous idea Commissioner’s Court has ever conceived. The sooner we get Conley and Barton out of office, the better.

  11. Shooting ranges have practical and recreational value and should be funded by gun interest groups or by commercial for-profit investment, not public funding. Shooting ranges should be located indoors or in non-water quality sensitive or wildlife habitat areas. Here is just one example why.

    “In June of 2003, one of Potomac Riverkeeper’s members reported the problem to the Riverkeeper. Visits to the site revealed that piles of lead shot were six inches deep in some areas.

    On February 25, 2004, Potomac Riverkeeper filed a civil suit against DNR (Maryland Dept. Natural Resources) for violations of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. They asked DNR to clean the lead pollution out of Great Seneca Creek. Potomac Riverkeeper and DNR agreed to select an environmental consultant to perform as risk assessment for the area. The results of the assessment proved that the lead pollution was damaging to Seneca Creek and the wildlife around it. Groundwater beneath the firing area had concentrations of lead that were 4,000 percent more than the ecological screening value to protect aquatic life and 667 percent more than the EPA’s action level for drinking water to protect human health.”

    A shooting range located over the Edwards Aquifer or its contributing zone would be asking for a civil suit.

    Again, shooting ranges have practical and recreational value and should be funded by gun interest groups or for-profit commercial investment, not public funding. In the citizen driven Hays County Parks and Open Space Master Plan (updated 2006), Facility Priority Summary, no mention of shooting ranges is even remotely covered. Nor was there any suggestion of a special interest project made in the 2007 parks and open space bond:

    PROPOSITION 2
    “THE ISSUANCE OF $30,000,000 OF HAYS COUNTY TAX BONDS FOR PARKS, NATURAL AREAS, OPEN SPACE, AND RELATED PROJECTS, AND THE PRESERVATION OF WATER QUALITY, AQUIFER RECHARGE AREAS, AND WILDLIFE HABITAT, AND THE LEVYING OF A TAX IN PAYMENT THEREOF.”

    Many of the 2007 bond voters have been disillusioned by how much of the parks and open space money has been spent on special interest projects instead of public projects for which voters were led to believe the funds would be spent. Only a politically driven elected official could make the stretch that the 2007 bond language included a special interest shooting range, or that any public expenditure for this or any other special interest group could be justified.

    If public money is spent for a shooting range (notwithstanding subsequent legal expenses), then why not for paint ball and archery ranges, ATV and bike tracks, or some other special interest activity benefiting a select group of citizens? Parks are open to all citizens. Open space benefits everyone.

    Better that members of commissioners’ court heed the advice of those they appointed to advise them on such matters, and the voters who will pay for the court’s spending.

  12. The incessant, repetitive firing of a rifle or shotgun must sound like music to some people. To my neighbors, pets, wildlife, and me the sounds are invasive and threatening. Too many people with poor judgement have access to guns without a safe place to practice or hunt, so they trespass, poach, and shoot across property lines. Our commissioners refuse to set a minimum amount of property required for hunting or target practice.

  13. I agree with Rick Bowen. Too many people with poor judgment have access to cars. Without a safe place to practice or drive around, they kill an estimated 40,000 people with their cars every year. with over 6,000,000 car accidents per year the property damage cause by drivers with poor judgment must be astronomical. If cars were guns we’d be walking. Just the other night a driver abandoned her moving vehicle and sent it careening into traffic right here in San Marcos. Luckily it hit a utility pole and only the power was knocked out.

    As for pollution, I am still waiting for auto exhaust to be treated with the same gravity as second hand cigarette smoke. I am certain breathing auto exhaust is unhealthy, yet as I sit and enjoy a coffee on the sidewalk on the square I am assaulted by these death machines not content to keep the odor of their death in the street, but rather spew carbon monoxide as close as possible to our eateries and coffee shops with impunity.

    As Mr. Bowman suggested, noise can be an issue that can affect the quality of life. I do long for sensible exhaust-noise regulation on motorcycles and other vehicles as well as regulations preventing the use of compression or “jake” brakes on large trucks that caravan through our city on a daily basis. Really, people live here, as do cats and dogs and deer and birds….

    I like the idea of a public shooting range. If designed properly, lead pollution and noise are non-issues. I suspect the worst part about having a shooting range is risking the drive to get to it.

  14. “I like the idea of a public shooting range. If designed properly, lead pollution and noise are non-issues.”

    What do you mean by “public”? Where will it be built? Who pays to build it? Who operates it? Does it obtain its operating revenues from users? Is it self sustaining, even profitable? Are lead pollution, noise and safety adequately addressed for all times?

    Sounds like someone needs to purchase an NRA Range Source Book CD for $20, develop a business plan, raise private capital, apply for federal grants, get a building permit from Hays County after public notice and a lot of public input and start a business.

    I can’t imagine where in Hays County an outdoor shooting range would fly, but there are a number of locations for an indoor range…or you can drive to Oak Hill and use that shooting range.

  15. Dr. O’Dell has all the answers. I don’t know why the rest of us even bother to think for ourselves.

  16. By “public” I mean of and by the people of, in this case, the county. Paid for by the people of the county in addition to any federal or state monies our commissioners can acquire toward this purpose. Frankly, it shows creative initiative on the part of the commissioners to merge the interests of shooting sports and parkland/wildlife habitat.

  17. Any chance Odell and Lila will give us all a Christmas present and either a) be positive or b) just go away ???

  18. Actually, Charles makes an excellent suggestion in his earlier post. The county and the city should look for ways to invest in “public” recreational activities such as paint ball, archery, and bike trails. There are a significant number of people interested in finding a home for Unicycle Football -both players and spectators. I am sure there are a multitude of special interest activities that would benefit a larger segment of the population beyond a few picnic tables and a smattering of BBQ grills.

    Investing in “public” recreational facilities with an eye to various specific activities would appeal to a broad section of the population, foster a greater sense of community, and enhance the quality of life.

  19. Unicycle Football – now there’s a great idea!! (see I can be positive – even before my first cup of coffee).

    And “special interest” groups are always in the eye of the beholder. (oops – going negative… need. more. caffeine.)

  20. If we propose to deny public funding for a shooting range using the argument that it’s a “special interest” sport, then would it also follow that public funding for bike paths, walking trails, or jogging routes also be pulled? After all, not everyone likes to bike, hike, or jog.

    For that matter, let’s also abandon public funding for parks that include swimming pools and barbecue pits. After all, swimming and grilling are “special interests”, right?

    Heck, let’s have all of our park lands just be blank space to avoid catering to ANY “special interest” groups. No playscapes, no picnic tables – no improvements whatsoever. See how well that idea goes over.

    The sad part is that some people will read this and think it actually sounds good…..

  21. Pingback: Hays County Shooting Sports Complex « Stuff From Hsoi

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