CATSKILL — Residents from both Catskill and Cairo voiced their concerns about a local gun range at a public hearing on Dec. 12.
Sheepdog Warrior Shooting Range, on Haines Road, Catskill, is before the zoning board awaiting an interpretation of the town code.
Catskill Town Code Enforcement Officer Elliot Fishman ruled the site was in violation of the code and sent a cease-and-desist letter last month. The range is considered a special use under town law and its special-use permit allows recreational shooting, but the Greene County Sheriff’s Office used the facility to train for about 20 days in October.
The range has also been used by police snipers from Connecticut, and the Saugerties Police Department used it for about a week, Sheepdog owner Edward Rivenburg said in November, when range representatives appeared before the zoning board for an interpretation of the zoning code.
Meanwhile, the site is also being reviewed by the planning board to extend its 450-yard range to 1,000 yards to make it a sniper training facility.
Resident Kerry DeMunn said law enforcement is not recreational use.
“It seems really clear if they have a special-use permit for a recreational membership club that police training is not recreational — it’s decidedly professional,” DeMunn said.
Joseph Hasenkopf of Round Top echoed similar remarks.
“It’s pretty cut and dry,” he said. “Recreational shooting is something somebody goes out and does for enjoyment. It is not something that one does to fulfill a job requirement or something they have to do to continue their employment.”
Cairo Town Supervisor Daniel Benoit attended the hearing.
“I spent 32 years as a member of the state police,” Benoit said. “We trained in firearms twice a year. I can tell you from personal experience that police training with shooting is not a recreational activity.”
Cairo resident Gary Warner shared similar sentiments.
“I have 23 years in law enforcement as a senior investigator and go to training twice a year so I do know what that consists of,” Warner said. “The NRA recognizes a separation of professional and recreational training. There’s no reason that this board should not do the same.”
Retired police officer George Kleinmeier of Round Top agreed that he had trained at a police facility and not on private property. He asked about how the town would handle the liability of a citizen getting shot.
Hasenkopf recommended fences around the range to protect hikers who might wander in from the surrounding state land.
Erecting buildings and shooting indoors would reduce the noise complaints, Hasenkopf said.
Residents also voiced concern about noise, although that is not what the board was reviewing.
Benoit and John Dowd, an attorney representing some of the residents, said that if the board rules the site requires a special-use variance, all other issues, including those related to the environment, will need to be reviewed.
“It does not fall under permitted or special use under your town code,” Dowd said, adding that a use variance will be needed. “He’s going to have to listen to all these issues here,” referring to the gun range owner. “They’re going to have to look at the environmental impacts.”
Benoit predicted Rivenburg will have difficulty proving hardship to get the variance, since the business has been profitable while relying on recreational shooting alone, he said.
Resident Jeffrey DeMunn of Catskill has not been able to enjoy his property, he said.
“The gun range has had an enormous impact on my life,” he said. “It makes my yard unusable. It’s an enormous impact on our community. No [environmental review] was ever done.”
DeMunn asked what the town would do if the business failed, although the hearing was not intended to be a question-and-answer session.
“You’ve got to protect us, you’ve got to protect Catskill,” he said. “It’s had a very bad effect on our community and on my life.”
Stephen Petronio of Round Top also expressed concern about the noise.
“It is quite audible from my property, which happens to be a nonprofit retreat,” he said.
Tod Hoffstatter has experienced great distress from the excessive noise, he said.
“I’m a victim of this gun range and I feel like I’m in a prison in my house,” Hoffstatter said. “I can’t go outside because I have anxiety attacks. This spring, I had to crawl to my neighbor and beg him to take me to the hospital. Every time that gun range goes off, I have to leave my home, which I bought for peace and quiet and I can’t even live there. I have to leave every day.”
Dave Woodin, of Catskill, said the noise should not go on after dark.
“I define noise after dark from a gun range to be unreasonable,” he said. “I don’t see how it could possibly comply with the zoning ordinance. When I come home at 9 o’clock at night, I want to relax, I want to sit down and enjoy the quiet of the neighborhood.”
Sue Hilgendorff of Round Top spoke on behalf of her family’s business.
“My family owns Winter Clove. It’s 150 years old,” she said. “It’s a tremendous impact on that business. It’s a tremendous impact when you consider how long people have come to enjoy the peace and quiet and serenity of the countryside.
Hilgendorff doesn’t wish the gun range ill will, she said.
“I want them to take into consideration the surrounding people who are so impacted and do everything they can to mitigate the issues and to try to resolve it,” she said. “Instead of us being enemies, we need to be good neighbors to each other.”
To address noise concerns, Sheepdog had decibel studies performed Oct. 5 at three locations adjacent to the range: Winter Clove Inn, 557 Winterclove Road, Round Top; the Hilgendorff property, at the end of Winter Clove Road; and Sweetwater Road. The study was conducted by LaBella Associates of Delmar.
The study compared three sound measures at shooting volume and ambient noise: LAeq, a measure of average sound; LAmax, the maximum 1/8 second root mean square sound level; and Lpeak, the instantaneous peak sound pressure.
LAeq levels increased by 1.5 decibels at the Hilgendorf residence, 0.9 decibels at Winter Clove Inn and 1.9 decibels at Sweetwater Lane.
LAmax levels increased by 1.5 decibels at the Hilgendorf residence, 0.8 decibels at Winter Clove Inn and 2.7 decibels at Sweetwater Lane.
Lpeak increased by 3.4 decibels at the Hilgendorf residence, 3.9 decibels at Winter Clove Inn and 3.4 decibels at Sweetwater Lane.
At Cairo’s meeting on Dec. 3, a question arose about a portion of the range that might be in Cairo.
Catskill Planning Board Chairman Joseph Izzo affirmed the entire range is in Catskill.
“Based on the original site plans given to us by Sheepdog Warrior, all of the site is in Catskill,” Izzo said Monday. “We would not look at it if a portion of it was in the town of Cairo.”
The sound study report created some confusion about the jurisdiction.
“The range is located in the town of Catskill on a 180-acre site that was formerly part of the Catskill Game Farm. A small portion of the range is in the town of Cairo,” according to the report.
Izzo said the report refers to the testing sites, which were performed in Cairo because Cairo residents are affected by the noise, he said.
Regarding the town boundary debate, Benoit said Cairo did not want to get involved.
“It’s something the town should pretty much stay out of,” Benoit said Dec. 3. “I’m not inclined to have the town spend $20,000 on a survey to see whether or not the shooting position is in the town of Cairo.”
In addition to noise concerns, an anonymous complaint sent to Fishman on Dec. 1 asked the town to investigate the effectiveness of the range when disposing of bullets and preventing lead contamination.
“We are concerned about the lead dust contamination of the soil and water generated by Sheepdog Warrior shooting range,” according to the complaint. “Please do an inspection as to the proper procedures with the collection of the lead dust in compliance with the Resource Conservation Recovery Act. To date, shooting 500 rounds of ammunition five days a week, there should be two 55-gallon drums full of lead bullets and powder in proper storage and records of their disposal.”
Gun ranges have several lead containment options such as sand traps, steel traps, rubber traps, earthen berms and shock-absorbing concrete, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.
It is also important for the range to monitor the soil’s pH levels — a measure of the acidity in water — and add lime if necessary to adjust the pH, according to the EPA.
“Anonymous complaints carry no weight,” Izzo said. “If the person or persons can’t sign the complaint, then don’t send it.”
Rivenburg is collecting bullets in the proper containers and following state regulations, Izzo said.
“I’ve seen the barrels and the way it’s collected,” he said.
Because the applicant, Rivenburg, was not present, the public hearing will be left open until the next meeting on Jan. 9.
If the board closes the hearing at that time, it will have 62 days to make a ruling.