Here are TEN Myths About the
Suffolk County Trap and Skeet Range

There have been countless people who, in an effort to defend the range, have publicly offered their version of its history and every single version is either a product of misinformation, a flat out lie, or simply wishful thinking.

Below are the facts (not the rumors, the hearsay or the wishful thinking) regarding the most common misconceptions surrounding the range.

 
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Myth #1: The Range Was "Here First" 

FALSE This one is the "Mother of All Falsehoods".

The Suffolk County Trap and Skeet range began life on Gerard Road as the "Nassau Gun Club" back in 1954 and existed as a private gun club for about ten years until the County assumed ownership of the land under eminent domain around 1964.  When the Nassau Gun Club first opened its doors for business, the noise generated from the facility annoyed residents on Gerard Road. Complaints were made and at least one resident retained an attorney and it was determined that they receive a nuisance fee. 

So in other words, the houses WERE here before the range was!

Myth #2:  The Land Was "Deeded" to the County to be forever used as a  Shooting Range

FALSE 
The land on which the range exists today was simply acquired by Suffolk County in the early 1960's under the rules of "eminent domain".  No wills, deeds, codicils, special instructions or "dying declarations" were involved.

Myth #3:  The Range Is "Grandfathered" 

FALSE 
There is no "Grandfather Clause" in effect.  The range is simply a "non-conforming" use and is subject to the rules which apply to that designation.

Myth #4:  The Range Is Exempt From Noise Laws 

FALSE 
In May of 2003, the Suffolk County Legislature voted on Resolution 1301 amending Chapter 366 of the Laws of Suffolk County by Local Law No.18-2003. The amendment included exempting County shooting ranges from the application of noise controls established by the County’s Noise Ordinance if the facility’s use as a shooting range predated January 1, 1980.

The exemption removes any noise controls ON COUNTY PROPERTY but has no authority to limit Brookhaven Town’s noise ordinance or its application to noise crossing the property line from County land to Town land.   In October of 2011, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the Town of Brookhaven has a "Constitutional Right" to enforce its noise law.  Because of this the Town can not only issue citations for noise violations (as it has been doing for quite some time) but those citations can now be processed through the appropriate court and will likely result in fines levied against the range's operator and the County itself.

UPDATE:  On December 10, 2012 the Sixth District Court of Suffolk County found the operator of the shooting range guilty of violating Section 50-5A of the Brookhaven Town Code (the Town of Brookhaven noise law).  The ruling read (in part): “After careful consideration of and deliberation upon the evidence presented, the Court finds the Defendant [Hunter Sports Shooting Grounds, Inc.] guilty of a violation of Town of Brookhaven code, Section 50-5A.”

This of course means that the Suffolk County Trap and Skeet range is now officially violating the law.

Myth #5: The Range Wasn't "Abandoned" 

FALSE 
Though the "dictionary definition" of abandonment doesn't come into play, the LEGAL definition does.  Since the land in Southaven Park rests in the Town of Brookhaven, it is subject to Brookhaven zoning laws.  Zoning laws are inexorably connected to Pine Barrens Law especially as it applies to the designation of a "use", which in this case is a "non-conforming use".  Brookhaven zoning law stipulates that the substantial discontinuance of any nonconforming use of a structure or premises for a period of one year or more terminates such nonconforming use and thereafter such structure or premises shall not be used, except in conformity with the provisions of the Town Code.  The "one year" condition is known as a "lapse period" and case law holds that "abandonment" applies in the presence of such a lapse period if a use has been discontinued for longer than the specified time. 

Since the range was closed four 4 years and 9 months and the use of the property for its primary purpose (a shooting range) was discontinued for that time, the "one -year" requirement is easily met and any first-year law student would have easily been able to cite common property law as the basis for this and so the question of whether or not Suffolk county intended to reopen the range is irrelevant since the  lapse period supersedes any issue of intent. 

This fact was brought to the attention of Suffolk County and an attempt to bring the matter to court was initiated by several residents but was met with abject stonewalling on behalf of the County and all who desired to see the range reopened.  This stonewalling continued for years until the statute of limitations ran out and thus the matter never saw the inside of a courtroom.  This was confirmed in 2010 when the Pine Barrens Commission voted to take jurisdiction of the property on which the range is located and did then try to bring the matter to court only to have their pleadings dismissed by a judge citing that too much time had passed and that the effort was "capricious".

For more on this subject (Zoning Law) click HERE

Myth #6:  It Would Cost Too Much Money To Shut the Range

FALSE 
There have been some wild numbers tossed about in regard to what it would cost to shut the range and these numbers all relate to the cost of a cleanup.  While it's true that a full-scale cleanup with the intent of returning the land to active parkland could be substantial, options exist beyond active use.  Since proponents of the range claim that the it poses no environmental threat as it exists, the most economic option would be to simply leave the land "as is" and declare it "passive parkland", the cost of which would be the price of some fencing and a few "no trespassing" signs.  Another option would be to clean the most obvious and concentrated areas of lead shot and clay target debris and leave the rest in place. 

In April 2012, this very subject was addressed in a letter written by DEC Regional Director Peter A. Scully.

In that letter,  Mr. Scully states the following:


"Once the range is no longer in use, it must be left in a state that is protective of health and the environment. If there are munitions remaining on the range, a final range clearance activity should be done to remove any munitions on or near the surface. If this is done initially by solely removing the lead shot and metal casings, these can be recycled under the hazardous scrap metal exemption to decrease costs. The separated metal would not be subject to storage and labeling requirements, nor is a hazardous waste manifest required, and the smelter or scrap metal dealer does not need a permit to accept the lead scrap, but notification to the Department is required.

Following the removal, the site can either be sampled to determine the extent of contamination or the topmost layer of soil can be removed and end point samples collected to determine if the cleanup was sufficient. If the groundwater table is near the surface in the area, a few groundwater samples should be collected as part of the endpoint sampling.

There is no specified timeframe for the cleanup; however there should be no admittance to the property until the cleanup has been done. The level of cleanup is dependent in part on whether or not the groundwater has been impacted by the activity and what the future use of the site will be."

Such steps may cost some money but those costs would be minimal and would likely be contractually borne by the current licensee.  Since there is no specified time frame for any cleanup (even a full-scale cleanup) costs can be deferred indefinitely or until such time as it is economically feasible and all that need be done as far as safety is concerned would be to restrict public access to the property.  

So, contrary to many of the wildly astronomical numbers that have been mentioned in regard to this issue, the bottom line is that if the County chose to close the range, they would be required to do little more than to "turn off the lights and lock the door" on their way out.

Myth #7:  The Range Is Owned By The Operator

FALSE 
The current operator of the range is simply a licensee and actually has less say in property issues than do most apartment renters.

Myth #8:  The Range Makes Money for the County

FALSE 
Nothing could be further from the truth.  The range does indeed generate revenue from usage fees, but when those fees are weighed against other costs, its value quickly diminishes to the point of irrelevance.  

For more on this subject click HERE

Myth #9:  There's No Place Else To Put The Range

FALSE 
There are at least eight other locations that have been identified by the Trap and Skeet Relocation Committee which was commissioned by The Suffolk County Legislature.  These alternate locations are detailed in a report from that committee entitled: "Trap and Skeet Search Committee Report on Relocation Alternatives for the Suffolk County Trap and Skeet Range".  

To read the report click HERE

Myth #10:  The Range's Land Has No Other Use

FALSE 
While it's true that if the land were to be used again as active parkland it would require an extensive and costly cleanup, but it should be noted that this is not a reason to keep the range where it is.  If a cleanup needs to be done, then that's what has to be done and a simple disdain for wanting to do this is not reason enough to forego relocation.

But there are other uses for the land which would require little more than fencing around the shotfall areas and putting the clubhouse and its existing parking area to use. 

Some of the alternative ideas which have been discussed include:

  • Using the clubhouse as a County Facilities building or field office and the parking area could accommodate County vehicles. 

  • The building could be used as a Community Center

  • The building could be used as a new headquarters for the Park Police leaving their present historic buildings available for preservation.

These are just some ideas for the building and parking area based upon a cursory cleanup and restriction of public access to the land.  If the County were to conduct a full-scale cleanup and return the current shotfall areas to active parkland, then the possibilities for use of that land increase dramatically.  So there are many things which could be done with the land besides restricting it to use as a shooting range but remember that even if none of these ideas are pursued, the land could simply be fenced off and declared passive parkland as outlined by the DEC (see Myth #6 above).

NOTE:  In September of 2012, members of the South Yaphank Civic Association (SYCA) met with Jon Schneider at the County Executive's office to introduce a proposal for an alternative use of the land on which the range exists.  This meeting was also attended by Legislator Kate Browning, Suffolk County Commissioner of Parks, Greg Dawson, Sarah Landsdale of the Suffolk County Planning Department as well as various legal representatives from the County.

SYCA's proposal was met with interest and enthusiasm as it offers far more than simply closing the shooting range and indeed presented a variety of alternative uses as well as broad ranging suggestions for Southaven Park as well.  The proposal addresses a number of issues beyond the range itself and offers creative solutions to help make Southaven Park, as well as the region in general a more desirable place to live and to visit.

You can read SYCA's proposal HERE

BONUS MYTH!  "Greedy Developers and Realtors" told homebuyers that the range was closing!

FALSE 
The reason why ANY substantial residential development occurred in the area surrounding the range goes all the way back to the early 1990's when the Suffolk County Department of Parks & Recreation told potential homebuyers that the shooting range would cease operations at its present location in 1995 and would be relocated. 

Not only were homebuyers told that the range would relocate, but they were also told where it was going; "to County land west of the Police Headquarters on Yaphank Avenue." (this was confirmed through calls placed to the Police Headquarters where spokesmen there added that the County was toying with the idea of establishing a "dual-use" range on the property which would consist of - part police range and part public shooting range)

So it was not the builders or the realtors who told people that the range was closing, it was the County Itself. 

In fact, in the summer of 1995, then Parks Commissioner Michael Frank along with Deputy Commissioner Chuck Skinner called a meeting of local residents in the clubhouse at the range and apologized to them for not being able to move the range as promised citing the recent construction of the new Suffolk County Infirmary (later called the Foley Skilled Nursing Center) as the reason.  Residents were told that the planned relocation site would be too close to the new facility and would be a nuisance to the patients residing there.  Residents were then handed a five-page pamphlet outlining various improvements to be made at the range detailing such relevant issues as gutters, kitchen improvements, painting and other sundry items. 

There was exactly one page dedicated to what can only be laughingly referred to as "noise abatement".

This "plan" consisted of a sketch that seemed as if it were drawn by a five-year-old which depicted some berms and some tree plantings and little else and we were supposed to believe that this doodle which most likely took all of ten minutes to produce represented some sort of effort actual effort on the part of the County to actually address the noise issue.

It took quite a while to stop laughing after we were presented with this visionary document.
And of course none of that was ever done anyway, so the County lied about THAT as well.

BONUS MYTH #2!  The people who live near the range were given "tax breaks".

FALSE 
After studying the overall effect of the shooting range on homes in the area based on noise complaint calls received by Brookhaven Town, the Town Assessor’s office reduced the assessed value of 178 homes in the area by an average of 6% citing the reopening of the range as the sole reason for the reduction. 
If one assigns even a modest market value of just $300,000 for each of these homes, that adds up to a loss of community equity totaling over THREE MILLION DOLLARS ! 

In simple terms, this means that 178 homes are worth $3 million less because of the presence of the range.  Naturally, if a property is worth less, the taxes paid on property are also less.  But this does not represent a tax break; this represents a loss in home value which is hardly the same thing.  That loss in value translates into a loss in yearly tax revenue to the Town of Brookhaven (estimated at between $40,000 to $60,000) to the South Country School District (estimated at $70,000 to $80,000) as well as losses to the Fire Department, Ambulance Corps. and other services and this shortfall will always exist as long as the range remains open.

Some "tax break", huh?

 

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©2013 South Yaphank Civic Association