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Shooting range triggers opposition in Green River

Sheriff Charlie McDonald wants to build a law enforcement center and shooting range at the Camp Flintrock property off Anderson Road in Green River. Sheriff Charlie McDonald wants to build a law enforcement center and shooting range at the Camp Flintrock property off Anderson Road in Green River.

GREEN RIVER — On an otherwise uneventful Tuesday afternoon, Green River Community Association president David Hill got a call from Jerry Rice, chief deputy of the Henderson County sheriff’s office. Sheriff Charlie McDonald wanted to come to that night’s Community Association board meeting. The topic was a shooting range.

“And of course, after one phone call, it spread through the valley like wildfire,” said Rita Bergstrom, who lives above the proposed site of the range off Bob’s Creek Road. “The meeting was at 7 o’clock and we heard about it at 6:15.”
In telling the story, Bergstrom mixed up her days, and her brother-in-law, Alan Hassell, corrected her.
“I don’t even know what day it is,” she said. “I cried all night.”
Hassell, who owns 42 acres bordering the property, is also opposed to a firing range.
A firing range would be part of a law enforcement training center on 125 acres off Anderson Road. The proposal has galvanized the Green River community. Neighboring landowners are especially concerned, and they are hoping to persuade the Board of Commissioners to drop the plans.
During last week’s Green River Community Association meeting, Sheriff McDonald explained the need for the shooting range not only for qualifying but for more intensive tactical training. Deputies can qualify now at the WNC Justice Academy but can’t get the kind of intensive training the department could conduct on the Green River site.
“We told the folks down in Green River that we’re certainly not looking at shooting five days a week eight hours a day,” he said in an interview Monday. “We stressed that we would certainly want to be good neighbors with the folks down there. I would certainly not see us shooting on Sundays at all, almost never on weekends.
“We actually talked about posting a range schedule that would let people know our hours and days that we would be shooting and indicated our willingness to be able change that up if there was something that came up, a death in the family,” he said. “I know right now it’s a very emotional issue and I understand that.”
That assurance has not quashed anxiety of residents who own property near the proposed site, which was operated years ago as Camp Flintlock. Anderson Road is off Bob’s Creek Road, 2½ miles from the U.S. 25 Connector. The former camp property is owned by the heirs of Beverly and Carew Rice, summer residents from Charleston. Neighbors say it had been listed for $750,000. McDonald and County Manager Steve Wyatt would not say how much Henderson County had offered for the land.

‘No welcome mat’

Anderson Road is thick with Beddingfields. Nearly everyone on the road is related, and they’re all in agreement. They don’t want the shooting range.
“I honestly felt like he was blowing a lot of smoke,” said Melissa Beddingfield of McDonald's presentation last week at the community meeting. “I felt like he came in there and wanted to sweet-talk us and act like he was doing us a favor. He told us they tried to keep it quiet because when people hear that government is buying land the price skyrockets. We all laughed at him because we know our property will decrease in value being that close” to the shooting range.
She said neighbors plan to attend the next Board of Commissioners meeting to express their opposition.
“We definitely don’t want to sit quietly and put out a welcome mat for it,” she said.
“The sheriff said they would put up a barrier,” she said, though that did not soothe her fears. “On a clear night we can hear Travelers Rest speedway. They’re not going to buffer the noise of automatic weapons a half a mile away. They said they would only use it during business hours. That’s fine but I’m a stay-at-home mom. I have an 11-month-old and 4-year-old. I have 15 nieces and nephews. They’ll have to hear gunfire all day long.”

Threatens summer camps?

James F. “Jim” Miller IV, the Camp Greystone owner, has recently spent $1.73 million to buy 250 acres above the Camp Flintlock property. He sent a letter to County Commissioner Grady Hawkins urging him to oppose the land purchase.

My point with them is Henderson County has an unsung jewel in these summer camps,” he said. “We’re a remarkable engine of consistent economic activity for this county. The direct and indirect impact on the county is huge. To the degree you damage summer camps you will unintentionally shoot yourselves in the foot.”

He said when he bought the land near Camp Flintlock he had hopes of developing it as another summer camp, maybe one a fifth generation of the Miller family could operate.

“I think the shooting range pretty much takes Anderson Road off our radar of areas that would be suitable for the campers,” he said.

“As a fellow conservative Republican who shares your concerns for the ways government can unintentionally harm business activity,” Miller urged Hawkins to consider the value of the camp industry, the property tax camps pay and the thousands of children and families they attract.
Sound travels the valley in surprising ways,” he said, pointing out that Falling Creek, Green River Preserve, Glen Arden, Arrowhead, Mondamin, Green Cove and Greystone are all in the Green River Valley.
David Dethero, who sold his property to Miller, said he alerted Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, which helped preserve a large tract in the area owned by Missy and Sandy Schenck.
“I think it’s a bad thing for the county no matter where put it,” Dethero said. “I don’t think there’s a good place in the county for an outdoor firing range. It will be very noisy and in a mountain area it will echo all over the place.”

‘An asset for community’

The money to buy the property and develop it as a training center would come from the proceeds of a land sale. Henderson County and the city of Asheville split the money from the sale of the Bent Creek property, which had been the subject of a long-running water plant dispute that the two local governments finally settled. The sale brought the county $3.4 million.

“There’s no question it would be an asset for the community going forward for a long time,” said County Manager Steve Wyatt. “We have been looking at properties for months and months and months trying to find a place. You’re looking at a substantial investment to buy a site, then to develop it but it would be a community asset. You want to have adequate buffers because there will be some noise issues. They’re not going to be shooting guns down there every day or every week. It would be intermittent. It would not be on Sunday. It would be very limited on Satuday. It might be daylight hours probably Mon through Thursday.”

County officials have talked about recovering the lead from the bullets officers would fire. McDonald and Wyatt say they envision offering the shooting range for police departments in the county but not beyond that.

The site, which has a pond, a lodge, several cabins and a home, would be suitable for tactical outdoor training, search and rescue and rescue diving, McDonald says. Fears of overshooting, he says, are unfounded.

“I think they’ve got us confused with the Afghani army,” he said. “There won’t be firing of live rounds indiscriminately in crazy places.”

County planners and engineers are working on a feasibility study, he added, and nothing has been finalized yet.

“It’s not a done deal that it’s even going to work,” he said. “They’re still bringing in numbers.”

The negotiations had to be secret, he said, to prevent price escalation.

“When people know that the county government’s at the table prices tend to go way up,” he said. “I know it was portrayed as being sneaky but it’s just the way business is done and there’s no point in floating some out before you know it’s even going to float.”

The county would have money left over after buying the land to finance the improvements.

“We wanted to get something that was well worth the money we paid for it up front to start with, and I think No. 2 their considerations were having enough money left over to do whatever major improvements needed to be done, and part of that was meeting environmental standards and doing some sound buffering as well.”

He said he would be the first to jump on it if someone could find a piece of property for a range that would disturb no one. Barring that, he said, Green River property looks to be the best choice.

“I am empathetic. I do understand it’s a tough topic,” he said. “From my standpoint, we don’t do this because it’s fun or it’s something we want to do. It’s something we’ve got to do whether it happens here or happens someplace else. We need that facility, and I think the feeling with folks I’ve talked to is we don’t know where we’ll have the chance of something that’s feasible.”