Saturday, July 02, 2022 |
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A long-awaited public shooting facility could be coming to Hawaii County.
A new bill, passed by both state House and Senate conference committees Wednesday, would establish a working group to determine potential locations and designs.
“A shooting facility on the Big Island has been in discussion for a very long time,” said state Sen. Joy San Buenaventura of Puna, who helped introduce the bill. “We need to legitimize a place so people don’t get arrested when they think what they’re doing is legal.”
The group will consist of representatives from the Board of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Public Safety, as well as hunters and recreational shooters who will establish potential locations, publish rules and operation manuals, create timelines for completion, and seek support for development, among other tasks.
“This committee will take another step in getting more folks involved in the process,” said Glennon Gingo, president of On Target Inc., a nonprofit that has been working on developing a Big Island shooting facility for nearly two decades. “We welcome that.”
In 2018, a 40-acre shooting range was designated off Daniel K. Inouye Highway near mile-marker 16, which Gingo noted was “a good start.”
“This new range would be larger and have a variety of disciplines provided for the public,” Gingo said.
Concepts for a new facility featured skeet and trap fields, long-distance rifle ranges, noise-mitigation technology, bays for competitions and classes, as well as several general-purpose rifle and pistol ranges.
“This is a repetition of what has already transpired,” said former On Target president Richard Hoeflinger, who led a previous working group in 2004. “It’s a good thing somebody is continuing this effort, but I have a jaundiced view after spending 12 years on it and reaching the status of dead end.”
The initial working group, consisting of DLNR representatives, Hawaii police and other groups, proposed a facility for Pu‘uanahulu.
“It’s part of an existing hunting area, so it made the most sense,” said Gingo of the Pu‘uanahulu location. “It’s also in a Game Management Area.”
But concerns from residents and the Kohala Coast Resort Association, along with an incomplete Environmental Impact Statement, brought the Pu‘uanahulu proposal to a standstill in 2015.
It was revived in 2017 from a resolution supported by the Game Management Advisory Commission.
Sen. Lorraine Inouye served in the Legislature during the previous working group and hopes a new location at Pohakuloa Training Area will be considered instead.
“They were willing to give a portion back to the state to use for a shooting facility,” said Inouye regarding unoccupied sections of PTA based on prior conversations with their representatives. “It makes sense for participants who come from the rest of the island.”
In addition to being between Hilo and Kona, Sen. Inouye favors PTA for its existing infrastructure and readily available emergency response teams.
As for the cost, an amendment to the bill puts a financial onus on the county, allowing for a match of state funds on a dollar-for-dollar level.
Additional funding could result from the Pittman-Robertson Act, which provides matching funds via federal tax dollars from equipment sales to states developing shooting facilities or programs.
“There are matching funds available by the state as long as there’s an effective plan,” said Gingo. “We’re trying to make sure that we get things on track so we can access those.”
Unpermitted shooting ranges can result in legal consequences and environmental concerns.
“As a criminal defense attorney, I’ve had to defend people who wanted to practice with their pistols in areas where they thought it was legal,” said San Buenaventura. “I also want to have a spot where the lead ammunition can be collected instead of polluting the environment.”
Advocates claim a facility could provide revenue streams via competitions, tourism and scheduled classes.
“If the ranges are built for training, safety classes and competitions, people would fly in from the mainland to attend,” said Todd Yukutake, director of the Hawaii Firearms Coalition. “This would be a full-feature, world-class facility.”
Members of the new working group will report recommendations prior to the convening of the 2023 legislative session.
“Over the last 15 years, and the working group before that, there’s been thousands of volunteer hours put into this,” said Gingo. “Now that we have some consistency and communication with the state and county on permitting, forming this working group can only help us push it forward.”
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