Neighbors concerned about planned Hopatcong Police gun range

| 31 Jan 2018 | 02:29

The Hopatcong Borough Police Department is planning to build a new shooting range and training facility, which has a nearby animal shelter and Byram residents concerned — especially about the noise.
After a site selection process, the Hopatcong Borough Engineer and the Borough Council decided to pursue a shooting range project on municipally owned property near the border between Byram and Hopatcong off of Stanhope Sparta Road. The 40-kennel “no-kill” shelter One Step Closer Animal Rescue (OSCAR) is a quarter of a mile from the proposed site.
Since animals, especially dogs, have a heightened sense of hearing, OSCAR President Cassie Prisco is worried.
“Most of the dogs are abused and have been through a lot, and this is their safe zone,” Prisco said. “It’s quiet there, it’s peaceful. It’s their little piece of heaven and we work really hard to make it a place that they are relaxed and they are comfortable in and can get them ready for adoption. The fact that there would be loud gun noises and different trainings going on right next to us is a big concern.”
According to Hopatcong Borough Councilman and Chairman of committee in charge of the shooting range project, John Young, he believes there is a lot of misunderstandings about the project.
“A lot of people think we’re building a public shooting range. That is not the case,” Young said. “We’re building a police training facility which will have shooting on it, and I guess a lot of people are just assuming we’re going to build it and start using it — just cut down a bunch of trees and start shooting. That is not the case at all.”
While no specific sound study has been conducted on this location yet — one of OSCAR”S biggest concerns — Young said the Borough plans to conduct a study and take sound mitigation measures. An informal sound test with no data recording equipment was done, which was enough to convince the council to move forward with the project at the chosen location.
Byram impactNot only is the site near OSCAR, but the range would be 1,800 ft. from the nearest Byram resident and only 700 ft. from the Township of Byram’s municipal boundary, according to Byram Township Mayor Alex Rubenstein.
His biggest concern is not necessarily the shooting range itself, but that since the project is a Hopatcong municipal project on municipal land, they are not required to go through an approval process.
As a mayor of a municipality, Rubenstein said he understands there are instances when an approval process would not be required, such as creating a park or building a salt dome on municipal land, but a shooting range is different.
“I would suggest that the operation of a shooting range is fairly unconventional, and certainly unusual, and because of that, it would seem to me that the town should go through the planning board process because this is going to be a very impactful use on that property to the neighbors,” Rubenstein said. “They are essentially going through this process without having to go through scrutiny from the people that live in the town and the adjacent properties, and without approvals or input from neighbors.”
Since the project committee was formed in February 2016, Young says that he feels the Hopatcong borough council has been transparent with the public in regards to the project. He said that reports have been presented at council meetings, they have given a presentation at a council meeting and a smaller presentation at the following land use board meeting to get their input.
Environmental concernsRubenstein even created a Facebook group called “Citizens Concerned About The Hopatcong Police Shooting Range” to share information and his concerns, including the potential impact on the environment.
The property is close to wetlands and, according to online maps, appears to be within the Highlands Preservation area, which has the highest level of protection under the Highlands Act. Since lead bullets are going to be discharged, there are concerns whether there is a potential for lead runoff to impact sensitive waterways.
Young said the Hopatcong council has consulted with the New Jersey Highlands Council and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, both of which he said have given them the go ahead.
“Our police department wants to go above and beyond state-mandated training to enhance their ability and in order for them to do whatever type of training, a lot of it probably scenario-based, they’re certainly handicapped by not having a facility of their own,” Young said.
Having the facility would also be a cost savings to Hopatcong taxpayers, Young said, costing the department less in overtime pay.
Legal actionRubenstein, along with Byram Township Councilman Harvey Roseff, donated money to an online legal fund set up by OSCAR, with the goal of hiring an attorney to fight for the animal shelter’s interests. So far the campaign has raised over $3,700, with Prisco hoping to raise $25,000.
According to Erik Hassing, an attorney representing OSCAR, while there are always safety and security concerns with a shooting range, the noise will particularly be a problem for OSCAR.
“There was testimony before the mayor and council that suggested that they were going to be firing 5.56 rounds, they have a decibel level generally of around 165 decibels, that’s louder than a 12 gauge, louder than a jet taking off or a jackhammer,” Hassing said.
Hassing said there is a statute that he believes requires Hopatcong Borough to go before the planning board for a review of the plans and a municipal noise ordinance that would require anyone else in that zone to be no louder than 65 decibels.
“If they don’t go before the planning board, then we will take legal action to enforce that statute,” Hassing said.