Gun range

Mayoral candidates spoke of the merits and pitfalls of the Basalt Gun Range during this week’s political forum at the Element.

The three candidates running for the position of Basalt mayor in the April 7 election, Rob Leavitt, Bill Kane and Bill Infante, discussed the issues related to the Basalt public shooting range located in the Lake Christine State Wildlife Area, along with a host of other issues facing Basalt during the Feb. 10 candidates’ forum at the Element hotel in Willits.

While there were many similarities on their positions about issues facing Basalt now and in the future, the three mayoral contenders did offer different approaches to how they would handle certain issues, and differentiated themselves in how they would manage the office of Basalt mayor.

Bill Kane spoke about creating a political process on controversial issues so that small-town Basalt residents don’t have to cross the street to avoid someone who thinks differently from them. Rob Leavitt wants to manage growth because he’s concerned about the number of already approved development projects. Bill Infante wants to work cooperatively with other surrounding communities and counties to tackle the big issues like affordable housing, traffic and development.

At Monday night’s forum at the Element, all three candidates were asked by moderator Todd Hartley about the Basalt Gun Range, the past issues there, the possibility of current issues needing further testing and how to work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to best ensure the peace and safety of Basalt residents.

Bill Kane was town manager of Basalt in 2010 when money was appropriated to make some improvements to the gun range, including constructing sound proofing sheds that did reduce some of the noise impacts. At the candidates’ forum, Kane said that while there are still noise issues with the range, the noise levels for surrounding neighbors like those at the Wilds have come down since 2010.

Kane noted he is a member of the Roaring Fork Valley Sportsmen’s Association that uses the range for target and skeet shooting. He has also been on a state parks commission and worked with the officials of CPW on various issues. In the long run, Kane believes the range should be moved, that there are better sites for the range and that some of the possibilities even include moving the site to a more secluded location in the Lake Christine State Wildlife Area, though this is not an inexpensive option given the road work and other infrastructure costs to make that happen.

While long-term solutions are being planned, Kane said he believes we need to continue to come up with safety, fire mitigation and noise abatement solutions to best operate the range in the interim.

Leavitt said he believes the town should stay on top of Colorado Parks and Wildlife to ensure that they make the changes they said they would, for example in testing surrounding soils and water.

In his opinion, if we are going to have a range there it should be enclosed and world-class.

“We don’t know what the status of the gun range is now,” said Leavitt. “We think that lead is there in the ground because we have shot there for a long time, but we don’t know if it’s getting into the waterways because there isn’t any testing. They haven’t been checking the waters, and they haven’t been testing the soils. That’s something we brought up to the gun range committee and that’s something they are now doing.”

Leavitt pointed out that there was a three-prong plan to make the range safer by removing weeds and foliage that would burn on the hillside behind the range, making the range quieter and looking at a long-term solution of creating either an indoor range or moving the range. He believes Basalt should ensure that CPW does the things to improve the range they said they would.

Bill Infante was more confrontational regarding the range.

“Looking at the role and function of us as elected officials, our principal function is to protect the safety and welfare of all of you,” Infante noted. “And we should be willing to invest to protect your safety and welfare.”

Infante continued: “The gun range is not a model range. I lament that the recommendations delivered 10 years ago were never upheld. We have never conducted the analyses or surveys that would have informed our understanding of the fire risk or the lead risk, and these are very legitimate concerns that all of you should take seriously.”

He went on to point out that the range is an economic resource because of the outfitters who bring clients to the range and then eat lunch in Basalt. However, the town’s first obligation is to the safety and welfare of its residents, he said.

Infante noted that Basalt does test the soils and the waters and, at this point, they don’t believe there has been any lead contamination. But he went on to suggest he doesn’t believe CPW officials have done enough to mitigate the issues at the Basalt Gun Range and that Basalt should reach out and contact officials higher in state government like Gov. Jared Polis.

The town council candidates will next offer their opinions on the issues Feb. 24, from 5-7 p.m. at the El Jebel Community Center.