Gun club in Seldovia shot down

The power of public comment took down an effort to set up a gun club in a valley near Seldovia.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly considered a resolution Tuesday to reclassify a parcel of land near the remote community of Seldovia on the southern Kenai Peninsula as recreational. The Seldovia Sportsmen’s Club, a recreational club, requested the borough reclassify the land so the club could apply to lease it for the purpose of setting up a shooting range.

The land in question is a 29-acre parcel about a mile outside Seldovia, which is home to about 277 year-round residents, according to 2015 U.S. Census estimates. George Oliveira, Jr., who led the effort to get the club established, said the club members wanted to set up a place where people could come shoot with the least impact on the public.

“It was pretty much the best location as far as impact on the public,” Oliveira said. “We looked and looked and looked, and that was pretty much it.”

Oliveira, who said he has lived in Seldovia for about 28 years, said people previously shot on private land when the owner gave them permission. However, being in the middle of a subdivision wasn’t the best option because of the effect on the neighbors. That led residents to form the Seldovia Sportsmen’s Club and look for land to keep all the shooting noise in one place.

Finding land in Seldovia that fit the parameters they were looking for was difficult, he said. Most of the land nearby is privately owned, state administered or owned by the Seldovia Natives Association. The prices to lease that land are greater, while the borough offers much more affordable land leases. This parcel fit all their needs, he said.

Nearby neighbors did not feel the same. At the borough assembly meeting, seven Seldovia landowners testified against the reclassification because of the intended use as a gun club. They cited reasons ranging from too much noise to sensitive wetlands in the area to public use as a berry-picking site in that area.

The Stanish family lives 1,300 feet from the site. Lisa Stanish requested that the assembly not reclassify the land, as it would just open up the opportunity for the gun range to apply to lease the land.

“It’s only a mile from town, so locals can go out and go for a walk, they can go hiking, they can go biking,” Stannish said. “Where are these people going to go if they’re going to feel like they’re being shot at?”

Seldovia resident Dave Chartier said there are streams running through the area and that he is concerned about that may lead to runoff from the gun range into the bay. Additionally, the geography of the valley would mean the sound from the shots would echo back into town, he said.

“I think this lead issue is maybe … long term,” Chartier said. “We don’t see it right now, like we hear the noise. There’s actually three creeks going through that, which makes it a bigger problem for them, for the leachate not to leave the area.”

Several members of the assembly said they were taken aback at the opposition. The resolution was originally included on the consent agenda, which would have approved it with no public debate, but assembly member Willy Dunne pulled it off that agenda to allow for discussion.

One concern several members expressed was that if the land were not reclassified as recreational, it could be developed in the future as residential or commercial property, as it is currently owned by the borough and not classified. Reclassifying the land as recreational could create a buffer that would prevent that development, said assembly member Kelly Cooper.

However, reclassifying it while simultaneously blocking a gun club seemed unfair, said assembly member Brent Johnson. It was the gun club that requested the reclassification in the first place, and reclassifying the land might tie the hands of future assemblies, he said.

The assembly unanimously voted the reclassification down. Multiple members thanked the Seldovia residents who had traveled up to testify about the issue.

Oliveira said he would have come up to support the reclassification if he had known it would be up for debate and was controversial. Now that the reclassification has failed, he said the club will disband and continue to shoot on private property they way they have been doing.

“If you don’t have something like this (gun club), you just end up shooting wherever you can,” Oliveira said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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