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Henderson County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to kill a proposed Green River firing range, a stunning turn of events that abruptly pulled the plug on the plan by Sheriff Charlie McDonald to create a training center for law officers and rescue personnel.

Nearly 100 Green River residents seated at the Historic Courthouse leapt to their feet and burst into raucous applause when commissioners voted no on the land purchase, which the county had tentatively agreed to buy with $10,000 in earnest money. Commissioner Charlie Messer made the motion to pull the Green River property from consideration, meaning that location is off the list. Commissioners said they would keep looking for a training center site, which they describe as a priority. A land purchase and new facility would be funded by $3.4 million the county received for the sale of property on Bent Creek that settled a long-running dispute with the city of Asheville.

"As far as the outcome, it's how the American system works," McDonald said afterwards. "I feel very confident that the commissioners see the need we have and that they're committed to finding a way to solve the problem. Nothing would be done at risk of polluting the water or (causing) errant rounds. ... I'm satisfied in the process. I don't have any hard feelings toward anybody.

"At least it got the need out on the radar and it wasn't swept under the rug," he added.

Commissioners listened to an hour and a half of emotional testimony from Green River residents before taking a short break and coming back to take up the matter. All five commissioners said that while they endorsed a training center for sheriff's deputies, the old Camp Flintlock property off Anderson Road was not the place for it.

Commissioner Michael Edney said he knew Green River well — his mother is a Capps — and understood the opposition. But he defended county commissioners against charges by some speakers that they had improperly acted in secret. Secrecy is needed and legal in land negotiations, he said. Otherwise "our price is going to double or triple" when word gets out that the county is shopping. "We have to do something to tie things up," he said. "It all has to be done that way to protect your investment."

"I'm going to support the training of these officers but it's not going to be Green River," Edney said.

"I told someone in the back we were going to try to kill two stones with one bullet tonight, the shooting range and Duke Power," said Commissioner Charlies Messer, referring to the board's earlier action on the Duke Energy transmission line. "I think the people of Green River and the southern part of the county have spoken."

Commissioner Hawkins, like Edney, said any closed meetings were authorized under state law.

"As far as secret meetings, we have not had any of those, with the exception of those allowed in state statute when you're looking at land," Hawkins said. "I would agree that we need to find a location that would satisfy the training needs with the least impact on this county that we could possibly find."

Green River residents had participated in a small area plan for land-use in the community, Hawkins said, and had not envisioned in that plan a shooting range to the rural heavily forested area off Bob's Creek Road. "The ink's not dry on the zoning yet," Hawkins said. "I look at that as a contract between this board and the community, a contract that says we need in good faith to carry out the zoning that was put down there."

Commissioner Bill Lapsley said the due diligence period before the county consummated the purchase included just the sort of public comment the board heard Tuesday night.

"We solicit public comment and we want it and we obviously got it tonight and we've gotten for the last 30 days through emails and phone calls and we appreciate that," he said.

Chairman Tommy Thompson said the board's decision on the firing range, like its resolution two hours earlier on another disruptive land-use proposal, the Duke project, came after commissioners received broad public input.

"We don't make decisions lightly," Thompson said. "We don't make them quickly and we don't make them by listening to one person." Thompson said only a few comments disturbed him, including "the comment that we do things in secret. We don't do that."

Speakers from the Green River community pointed to their family's heritage and deep connection to the land, the peace and serenity of the valley, safety, noise, clean water and wildlife in urging commissioners to scrap the firing range.