Puuanahulu shooting range proceeds slowly

State officials and gun enthusiasts are hoping the third time’s a charm to persuade dubious neighbors that a shooting range at Puuanahulu won’t be within earshot.

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State officials and gun enthusiasts are hoping the third time’s a charm to persuade dubious neighbors that a shooting range at Puuanahulu won’t be within earshot.

Supporters say a range is needed to train hunters and would-be gun owners in a safe, supervised atmosphere. More than 2,000 rifles and pistols were added to the island in the past five or six years, said James O’Keefe, a National Rifle Association certified trainer living in Hilo.

“There’s a tremendous number of firearms come in and no place for people to use them legally,” O’Keefe said.

There’s more than a year waiting list for hunter safety classes, he added.

But at least one opponent of the project believes the project is ill-suited for the area, whether neighbors can hear it or not.

South Kohala resident Mel Malinowski said a shooting range that will host shooting tournaments and competitions will attract hundreds of gun enthusiasts from the mainland, creating an atmosphere that isn’t what Hawaii is all about.

“This is not the kind of tourism we should be going for,” Malinowski said. “The people in South Kohala don’t want it.”

Malinowski is worried about “some drunk guy from Missouri” packing heat and wandering around the area resorts.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources conducted its third live-fire shooting test last week. This one will lead to a computerized visual characterization of sound levels at various sites across the one-square mile range and surrounding areas.

The results will be used in an upcoming environmental impact statement for the project. Once the EIS is published, public comment will be taken.

It’s not known when the EIS or the project will be completed, DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison said Monday.

“We’ve listened to some of the community concerns, and this will give them a good visual depiction,” he said.

A DLNR video of the sound test can be viewed online at westhawaiitoday.com.

Long sought by shooting sports enthusiasts and hunting advocates on the Big Island, Puuanahulu Shooting Range is proposed for a 640-acre, or mile square tract of lava flow, mauka of Queen Kaahumanu Highway, about a mile southeast of Waikoloa. It would supplement the only other public shooting range on Hawaii Island, the county-run Hilo Trap and Skeet Range, which is limited to shotgun shooting.

The project has been bandied about since the 1970s, with serious planning begun in the late 1990s. A nonprofit organization, On Target Inc., was formed in 2010 to build and run a public shooting range.

The Kohala Coast Resort Association, which represents 60 percent of the island’s hotel rooms and vacation rentals, has objected to the project, saying the project location is unsuitable because noise from the shooting can be heard at area resorts. The association wants the state to consider other locations.

The association has been sending a representative to a working group to try to resolve issues.

Project planners are settling for a less optimistic time frame for the shooting range to be complete, following earlier forecasts that construction could begin this year.

Some of the money for the project is slated to come from Pittman-Robertson funds, a tax on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment that is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to pay for hunter education and shooting ranges, in addition to wildlife protection.

Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie had included $3.25 million in matching funds for the project spread out over several years.

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The first phase, as presented during a 2012 public meeting, calls for general-purpose rifle, pistol, 3-D bow hunting and archery ranges and a sporting clay course. The second phase includes a 1,000-yard rifle, 100-yard airgun, action pistol, and pistol, rifle and shotgun ranges, as well as a trap and skeet area.

Supporting facilities are expected to include structures to house management and operations, as well as a hunter education center, restrooms, picnic areas and parking.

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