Puuanahulu shooting range not dead yet

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Supporters of a West Hawaii shooting range haven’t given up on their longtime dream, even as the project seems at a standstill more than three decades after first being envisioned.

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Supporters of a West Hawaii shooting range haven’t given up on their longtime dream, even as the project seems at a standstill more than three decades after first being envisioned.

Little has happened since the third round of live-fire testing at the Puuanahulu site was conducted in early December. Supporters and opponents are awaiting the results of those tests, which could be complete within weeks.

Suzanne Case, chairwoman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, has been meeting with interested parties over the past few days, bringing herself up to speed on the issue.

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.

Richard Hoeflinger, president of On Target, said Monday that computer simulated noise travel patterns and two on-site ambient noise tests in Waikoloa should help calm Kohala resort owners’ fears of noise traveling to their area.

The tests were conducted by Censeo AV+ Acoustics for PBR Hawaii, the contractor hired by DLNR for the noise studies.

“I think everybody’s just sitting and waiting for this third sound test,” Hoeflinger said.

The noise test is expected to show 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.

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, joined by others, has asked the state to consider other locations.

“We believe that having this shooting range in such close proximity to a place where many thousands of people come to work, live, and play will have damaging effects on surrounding businesses, future developments, and employment opportunities,” a group of 28 cosigners said in an earlier letter opposing the project.

Cosigners ranged from resort owners, hotels, labor unions and condominium associations.

“The comfort and safety of residents, visitors and employees should be paramount. There is a place for a shooting range on the island, but the proposed Puuanahulu location is not appropriate,” the letter said.

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.

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.

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. But the Legislature has since been reluctant to appropriate funding.

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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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