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Seabeck neighbors up in arms over gun club

The Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club uses a Seabeck gun range that has existed for more than 100 years. - Christopher Carter/staff photo
The Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club uses a Seabeck gun range that has existed for more than 100 years.
— image credit: Christopher Carter/staff photo

It was the noise that bothered them at first.

They have since added stray bullets, damage to the environment and illegal firing of military weapons to their arsenal of complaints against the Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club in Seabeck.

“We realized this was a hell of a lot bigger thing than a noise issue,” said Seabeck resident Skip Junis, a member of a group calling themselves “CK Citizens 4 Environmentally Safe & Quiet Neighborhoods.”

But club Executive Director Marcus Carter said that in addition to a near spotless safety record, the club has been willing to work with neighbors, but contests much of the criticism.

“We’re doing everything we can and then some to try to alleviate concerns that are being raised,” he said, adding the information the group has been soliciting is “patently untrue” and exaggerated.

The ad hoc group is petitioning the county to take legal action against the club, which has existed for more than 80 years. And the 72-acre range at 4900 Seabeck Highway NW has been around even longer.

Members met with officials from the prosecuting attorney’s office Wednesday and Junis said he is confident there will be some action taken.

Deputy Prosecutor Neil Wachter said code enforcement falls under the Department of Community Development, and that department would decide the course of action.

In addition to sharing information with fellow Seabeck neighbors, the group has gathered signatures on petitions and has sent letters to the county and state requesting investigations into whether the club damaged wetlands around the range, public health safety and non-permitted development. Neighbors say noise has increased in recent years, the range has expanded in size and additional firing lines are putting neighbors at risk.

But atop the group’s list of concerns are bullets landing outside the range property.

The group formed slowly over the past several months and its list of complaints grew with it, said Junis, adding that the group is not trying to shut down the range.

“This is not about gun rights, it is about doing things in accordance with the rules,” said group member Terry Allison, adding that he never wants to see the range shut down. “The only desire is to get them to follow the same rules as everyone else.”

Junis lives in a housing development about a mile northeast of the range and said bullets have ended up nearby.

The problem hits a little closer to home for Allison. His property is less than 1,000 feet east from the range with some firing lines pointed at his house, and said any discussion of rights should include his right to have confidence the range doesn’t pose a danger.

“They have no consideration of my rights,” he said.

Allison has a different outlook on the club’s actions than most other members of the citizens group — he’s a former member.

He said he frequented the range weekly beginning in 1988 when he moved to the area to work at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. He became an honorary member until 2005 when he eventually bought a membership so he could bring his son and grandson to shoot. Less than a year later, he hung up his membership badge for good after disagreeing with the club’s attitude and change in leadership.

Now, Allison has joined Junis and other neighbors in protest.

It is not just houses that are in danger of being hit, Allison said.

The orientation of some of the club’s firing lines point toward the new Newberry Hill Heritage Park.

Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Director Jim Dunwiddie said concerns about stray bullets have only recently been brought to his attention, but that it is something worth taking into consideration.

“I wouldn’t say it wasn’t that big of a deal,” he said.

However, he also said there were no comments from the public about any safety concerns during some of the park’s planning meetings. He said his department is waiting to hear from community development regarding who should address the issue.

Junis said Klahowya Secondary School, about a mile north of the range, could also be an unintentional target. However, school officials said they haven’t had any problems.

Central Kitsap School District spokesman David Beil said there have been no reports of bullets found on or near the school’s property.

Stray bullets are a negative and sometimes unavoidable consequence of outdoor ranges, Carter said, but noted he hasn’t heard other complaints and there have been no instances of neighbors being struck.

Apart from rogue bullets, Junis said he believes the range is having a negative environmental effect on the nearby wetlands every time the range undergoes construction or drainage is altered, and point to Google maps they say show a decrease in wetland surrounding the range.

“There has never been a, what you would call, official or legal review,” said Allison. “No definitive statement that what they did caused all this.”

Still, Junis and Allison say they want an investigation from the state Departments of Ecology and Natural Resources to determine if the range is harming the environment.

Among the information being distributed throughout Seabeck neighborhoods are pictures of alleged non-military range members discharging military weapons.

The military — primarily the U.S. Navy — uses the range legally for training exercises or demonstrations.

Navy spokesman Sean Hughes said recent complaints have prompted the Navy to address the use of private ranges and draft a new policy eliminating their use.

“We’re making sure all our commands understand as DOD assets we should be using DOD facilities,” he said, adding that the Navy has been legally training at the club’s range since 2005. “Our need for ranges continues but at this point though, we need to use DOD ranges first.”

Carter said he is aware of the photos, but added that they are being used as “propaganda” and can be misleading. He said members of the military will come out to the range, not in uniform, to be certified on various weapons, but denied any knowledge of civilians using the weapons.

Carter said the citizens group has not approached the club directly, but he has heard the same complaints more than once. He said it is not unusual for the club to be protested every couple of years.

“We’ve had a long history and record of saftey,” he said. “What we’re doing and have done has worked well.”

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