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Judge restricts use of shooting range

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COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — A northern Idaho shooting range that Idaho Department of Fish and Game had envisioned accommodating more than 550,000 shooters annually is now restricted to 500 a year, a judge had decided.

First District Judge John Mitchell last week said reports by neighbors of bullets striking their homes were credible, while a Fish and Game employee in favor of the range expansion was "wearing blinders."

The proposed $3.6 million expansion of the shooting range in Farragut State Park cannot proceed as planned, Mitchell ruled, and the range cannot be used at all until safety improvements are made.

The shooting range has been in use for decades, but Mitchell determined that improved access in 2003 that eliminated a hike of half a mile turned the range into a nuisance for nearby residents because of increased use.

He also said that the range expansion doesn't satisfy Kootenai County zoning requirements that the range be built in an area with "full consideration to the safety factors involved in such a use."

Idaho law protects gun ranges from nuisance complaints by neighbors who move near to a gun range after it opens. However, gun ranges that undergo "substantial change" are not protected.

Idaho Fish and Game biologist David Leptich said that the use of the range hadn't changed, and that it wouldn't change even after a planned expansion to provide 130 shooting stations for an estimated 557,112 users a year.

But Mitchell noted that, before access was improved, the range had only 182 users who signed a log in 2002, The Spokesman-Review reported.

He said some users might not have signed the log, and set the limit of 500 annually to account for them and as an "acceptable" increase, but which essentially kept the range at historic levels of use.

But before the range can be used at all, Mitchell ruled, additional safety measures must be put in place. Those are baffles — objects such as wood or concrete suspended over the firing lanes that would stop bullets that are aimed too high.

Mitchell said that additional baffles to ensure "no blue sky" would be required if more than 500 users a year were to use the range.

Some critics of the range wanted Mitchell to remove the 160-acre firing range from the 4,000-acre state park, but Mitchell rejected those requests.