Big Lake Shooting Range On Hold

A contentious shooting range issue dominated Tuesday night’s Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly meeting, and the debate over the range’s location affects a Valley youth program.

Tuesday night’s crowd at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly chambers in Palmer was there for one reason – to support or oppose a Borough ordinance that would allow the Borough to sell, at far less than market value, 80 acres near Big Lake, to be used specifically for a youth rifle range. The sale price at 10 percent of fair market value is $17,720 for the land. There was no shortage of support for the idea during the public hearing that preceded Assembly debate.

Neil Moss, president of Alaska Scholastic Clay Target Program,  holds up a map of land the ASCTP wants for a shooting range at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday. (Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA - Anchorage)
Neil Moss, president of Alaska Scholastic Clay Target Program, holds up a map of land the ASCTP wants for a shooting range at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday. (Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage)

Neil Moss, president of the Alaska Scholastic Clay Target Program, told the Assembly, “This piece of property….I’ve walked the entire 80 acres.. is absolutely perfect for a shotgun facility. It could not be designed better.”

Moss held up a map before the Assembly, showing the range acreage, and the surrounding Borough-owned land. He said the range would be only a small portion of the area located at Susitna Parkway and Purintan Parkway.

“That’s what the skeet range area looks like ” he said, pointing to a tiny white dot surrounded by a red area depicting Borough land. Moss said shot would not escape a 300 yard limit and would be contained by a natural land formation.

ASCTP had made the request for land from the Borough. Supporters of the bid, mostly parents and firearms instructors and a dozen young marksmen themselves, packed the house. They wanted a shooting range that would be located in an area that kids can drive to within a reasonable time. One Willow teen marksman said it takes him more than an hour one way to reach the Birchwood shooting range.

But Big Lake homeowners balked at the idea. Kybie Lucas works in real estate.

“I am against this for obvious reasons. They are not compatible with residential neighborhoods,” Lucas said. “If people have a choice, they will not live next to a shooting range, and the sound will carry to these residential areas dramatically.”

Lucas also said that nesting loons, eagles and other wildlife would be disturbed by the shooting noise. Most of those opposed to the sale of the Borough land made it clear they were not against a shooting range for youth, they were against the location of the proposed range. John Yancey, a former hunter education instructor, said he’s in favor of the youth program, but the location is “terribly wrong.”

And the land plan had inadvertently tripped a political trigger.

Jim Faikes told the Assembly he was “dismayed” that the Assembly had not contacted the Big Lake Community Council on the issue. The land in question lies within Big Lake’s Comprehensive Plan – and Big Lake is considering incorporation as a city.

“Puritan Parkway is slated to be a four lane arterial connecting the Port [MacKenzie] to the Parks Highway. This [property] is a half mile on the frontage of that road,” Faikes said. “Big Lake has a comprehensive plan, the Borough is familiar with it. And that particular piece of property, that stretch, that corridor, is designated to be commercial or industrial along that route. To take it away for that [shooting range] purpose would be inappropriate.”

In the end, Assemblyman Dan Mayfield, who represents the Big Lake area on the Assembly, moved to postpone action on the land sale until June, so that Borough staff can find a suitable alternative lands within the Borough. With arguments in opposition by Assemblymen Ron Arvin and Steve Colligan, the Assembly postponed action on the issue until June.