The clash between the residents
and the Suffolk County Trap and Skeet Range didn't start in 2006.

As far as the immediate community is concerned, the real story began about twenty years ago but the issues go much farther back than that.

Thought the history of this range is extremely complex and hardly as simple as "who was here first", it would take volumes of text to fully explain its labyrinthine saga.   So instead we offer a sort of "Cliffs Notes" version of the Rubik's Cube that is the Suffolk County Trap and Skeet Range.

More importantly, we'll explain how Suffolk County has been lying to everyone since the beginning and that the County has never delivered on ANY promise made to this community. 




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 and complaints were made.  The late Ray Corwin referenced this fact in a statement made to the Board of Trustees of the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation when he said, “as soon as the shooting began, one neighbor that lived across the street, Mrs. Glover was upset with the noise and attained an attorney, and it was determined that Mrs. Glover receive a nuisance fee.”  (From the May 6, 2004 minutes of the Board of Trustees of Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation)

In addition to proving that noise has always been an issue concerning the range, the comments made by Mr. Corwin serve to illustrate the fact that:
houses existed ON GERARD ROAD prior to the establishment of the SHOOTING range.

So perhaps it's time to put to rest the rather tiresome "range was here first" nonsense once and for all and simply accept the reality that it wasn't.




The first lie...

In the early 1990's many first-time homebuyers looked at houses in this area. 
The models for the development were located directly across the street from the entrance to the shooting range, so naturally people had questions about it.  The builder claimed that the range was to be closed in 1995 and reopened elsewhere.  Understanding that a builder would say pretty much anything to sell a house, almost everyone decided to look into that claim.

Calls were placed to the Suffolk County Department of Parks and Recreation (the sign at the range listed it as the entity in charge) and they were asked if there was any truth to the claim that the range would be relocated.  The Department of Parks' response was an emphatic "Yes". 
They said that the then current vendor's lease was due to expire in 1995 and that they would then be relocating the facility to county property located west of the Suffolk County Police headquarters building on Yaphank Avenue, (over a mile and a half away).
Many who then called the Suffolk Police headquarters to ask if they had heard anything about this were told  that not only had they heard of it, but that there was also talk of the County creating a dual-use range with the police department, (part police firing range and part public shooting range). Calls were also placed to Park Police Headquarters located in Southaven Park itself and they confirmed that they too had been apprised of this plan.

With assurances such as those, people were satisfied that the claim was true. 
After all, why would the Parks Department lie about moving what most people saw as little more than a big open field?  In 1990 there were many other big open fields on Long Island and surely the County wouldn't actually keep a shooting range right next door to a residential community, would they?   Needless to say, 1995 arrived and the range was going nowhere.

The mendacity had begun.

Parks Commissioner Michael Franks along with his Deputy Commissioner Chuck Skinner, called interested residents to a meeting at the range to explain that it was NOT going to move as promised and said that the reason why the range was not going anywhere was because the new site would be too close to the recently built County Infirmary (now known as the Foley Nursing Center) and would... (wait for it)... pose a disturbance to the residents there. He then passed out a seven page document explaining what a great neighbor the range was going to be.  It included information about lead cleanup and noise mitigation among other things and from that moment on until the range was closed in October of 2001, not a single solitary thing was



THE WONDER YEARS (1996 - 2001)

We recall with awe and amazement the days that we refer to now as The Wonder Years primarily because we wondered how anyone or anything could have the gall to do the things that the County and the range's new vendor did in those days.

It wasn't bad enough that just after 1992 ended, the County decided to allow the Sporting Clays Course to move in.  Now instead of just an annoying (but tolerable) "snap-crackle-pop", there were now cannon-like "BOOMS" occurring in pairs and at intervals of 3 to 5 seconds.  Since this wonderful new addition faced directly at the growing community (just as it does today), it was now officially impossible for anyone to escape the sound of gunfire. 
In fact, the reports not only invaded the neighborhood directly, but once there they began to bounce off of one house and then another, filling the air with not just cannon blasts, but ECHOES of cannon blasts too!

It wasn't too long before many people began to complain that this new addition -- one which was "not here first" was quite unnerving, especially at 9:00AM.  So the community lobbied the County to consider opening an hour later at 10:00AM on Saturday and Sunday and the County actually agreed with that and told us they would.

What the County actually did was to rollback the opening hours for the entire week (which we didn't ask for) and then had the chutzpah to tell us that since they had now "lost" five hours of range time per week, (remember that we only asked for two hours) they said that in order to make up for this "lost time", would we be willing to allow the range to remain open until dusk, ONE EVENING PER WEEK? (they told us they preferred Thursday)

So the neighborhood figured that one night wouldn't be so bad in exchange for an extra hour's peace in the mornings, so we foolishly agreed. 


Within two-weeks -- and in classic; "if offered an inch, take a mile" arrogance, the County abandoned the "just one night" promise and instead kept the range open  EVERY SINGLE DAY FROM 10:00 AM UNTIL THE SUN WENT DOWN!

So this meant that there were virtually no daylight hours that were not accompanied by gunfire.  If one came home from work on a hot summer day, there was absolutely no opportunity to simply sit in one's backyard with a cold beer or an iced tea and just relax -- unless relaxation included the booming gunfire that lasted until just before it got dark.  Naturally, everyone complained and the County was of course "looking into it", but by then we all knew what that meant but we kept on complaining and calling them the lying bastards that they were but it all fell on deaf ears (probably from being around their range too much).



The next lie...

In October of 2001 the range was closed and would remain closed for almost five years. 

When news of the closure hit the neighborhood, it was like Times Square on New Year's Eve! 

An almost audible sigh of relief could be heard from the entire neighborhood because that's when we all got our lives back (or so we thought).  Building continued here in South Yaphank and more importantly, people actually began LIVING in their homes.  Patio's, pools, decks, swing sets, hammocks -- all of the things one associates with a suburban community all began to be built or used, many for the first time.  The community had finally begun to actually LOOK like a community and more significantly, it began to actually FEEL like one.

In early 2002 we heard rumblings about "vendors" and "RFP's" and we stayed plugged in to what was going on and we attended meetings and we made our case for keeping the range closed never realizing the corruption and collusion that was going on behind closed doors.  By 2006, another 200 or more homes had been built with more on the way and it was then that we heard that the County was going to reopen the range.
Despite the fact that almost five years had passed and despite the fact that over 300 homes now existed within a half-mile of the range with many much closer than that and despite the controversy and enmity which had already existed when there were less than one hundred homes here, the County (specifically it's new leader, Steve - "I-never-met-a-person-I-couldn't-screw-over" - Levy) apparently believed that reopening the range near a neighborhood over three times larger than it was when the range closed would somehow engender LESS of a controversy (take a moment to Look up the definition of "insane").

The spin coming from what was now the Levy administration was all about what a financial windfall the "new" range will be. It was supposed to attract out of town guests and have them paying for hotel rooms (there are no hotels in Yaphank) and to sample the local cuisine (a bar, two deli's and a pizzeria), and of course they would purchase gasoline and go shopping in the area (if there were any stores) and just exactly how any of that translated into "Dollars for Yaphank", was never fully explained to us and still is a mystery.

The range was touted as being a boon to Yaphank, although no one seemed to be able to tell anyone just how that was so. At this time, Suffolk County had allotted $800,000 for noise mitigation, environmental restoration and general improvements.  This exists in the form of bonds which will be paid back at about 5% interest over 15 years.  Everyone from the vendor on down cited the huge financial input to the county coffers the range would supply, but in the years prior to 2001, the best it ever managed in any given year was barely $30,000.  The current vendor claims that his first full-year proceeds to the county were around $40,000 (much of which comes from the retail sales of HIS PRIVATE BUSINESS rather than shooting fees), but at the current payback rate, the annual cost to the taxpayers for these bonds is around $33,000, so no matter where that $42,000 comes from, that leaves the county operating this facility for a paltry $7,000 per year.

Couple this with the fact that the Brookhaven Town Assessor's Office has devalued 178 homes near the range by an average of 6%.  So if one assigns even a modest market value of just $350,000 for each of these homes, this adds up to a loss of almost FOUR MILLION DOLLARS in community equity. 
That loss in value translates into a loss of YEARLY revenue (in the form of taxes) for the South Country School District (estimated to be between $70,000.00 to 90,000.00), the Town of Brookhaven (estimated to be between $40,000.00 to $60,000.00), as well as a loss in tax revenue for other services such as fire and ambulance - and this shortfall will continue to exist as long as the range remains open.

So, if someone would like to come forward and explain to us just how the presence of the range actually enhances our lives, we'd love to listen to what they'd have to say.

After all, everybody needs a good laugh once in a while, right?



The Environmental lie...

Next, we have the issue of lead contamination and reclamation. 

The county has claimed that it has cleaned the site.  This is simply not true. 

Sure, they’ve scraped the open field in the fall zone for the trap line, but they have not addressed the massive amounts, (estimated as up to 60% - 70% of the lead and clay target debris created by this facility), existing in the wooded areas of the sporting clays course. 
Sporting clays, by nature, exist in the wooded areas of the range to better simulate "real life" shooting conditions.  The fallout of lead shot and broken targets, (themselves containing known carcinogens), are scattered throughout these wooded areas and are, in some areas, 4 to 6 inches in depth.  In order to properly clean these areas, much of the vegetation would have to be destroyed in order to access this debris which has been accumulating there for decades.  This, of course, would be a direct violation of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law, (NYSECL), and such clearing is prohibited in a Core Pine Barrens Area which is where this facility exists.

Before the range was closed in 2001, the taxpayers were forced to foot the bill for a cleanup of lead shot and clay target debris that was collected from the range and illegally dumped into the public areas of Southaven Park.  In an October 2001 Legislative meeting, then Parks Commissioner Peter Scully said,

 “the Health Department subsequently tested those areas and determined that the lead levels were beyond regulatory threshold, and we incurred significant expenditures through the Department of Public Works, between 200 and $300,000 to clean those materials up.”  (Meeting of the Parks, Sports and Cultural Affairs of the Suffolk County Legislature on October 17, 2001).

With this in mind, consider that from 1990 to 2001 the average revenue generated by the range for the County was just $25,000 per year. This means THAT SINGLE CLEANUP cost of "between 200,000 and 300,000" taxpayer dollars wiped out an entire decade of so-called profit.  The truly laughable part is that even if the County could successfully clean all of the lead and clays from every nook and cranny of the range, the idea that they would then reopen the very facility that put it there in the first place is the stupidest thing we've ever heard.

Then of course there’s the soil contamination.

The Suffolk County Trap & Skeet Range is located in Southaven County Park in the Core Preservation Area of the Pine Barrens and it rests very close to the Carmans River. Naturally, we as a community are concerned for our own health and quality of life issues, but just as importantly we (as do many other Long Island residents) enjoy the presence of the Carmans River and are concerned about its future health.

But the bigger picture here is that the presence of this shooting range in an environmentally sensitive area threatens an ecosystem which has been designated by New York State as an environmentally critical and sensitive watershed and more importantly threatens the health of the Carmans River - the last relatively pristine river left on Long Island.  The CARMANS RIVER WATERSHED AND MANAGEMENT PROTECTION PLAN outlines a detailed effort to preserve and protect the Carmans River but it is simply not possible to have any serious discussion about protecting and preserving the Carmans River Watershed without addressing the existence and effect of the Suffolk County Trap and Skeet range which sits a mere 800 yards from the river itself.

Way back in March of 2002, the "Carmans River Environmental Assessment Report" was prepared for Suffolk County by Cashin Associates. 

The report pointed out that the Carmans River “is almost entirely fed by groundwater from the uppermost of Long Island’s aquifers”.

That very same report also examined the Suffolk County Trap & Skeet Range and pointed out that the range “sits directly atop a sole source aquifer from which Long Islanders draw their drinking water and is part of the Carmans River Watershed and Drainage Basin.” 

Also in March of 2002, a report of the Trap and Skeet Oversight Committee was prepared for then Suffolk County Parks Commissioner Peter A. Scully.  That report indicated that: “Lead contaminated soil exists throughout a major portion of the range.  Lead levels well above those acceptable for parkland use were encountered to a depth of at least 6” below grade.”   This report also stated that groundwater samples taken in December of 2001 indicated lead levels as high as 20ppb, which is significantly higher than the New York State standard for drinking water of 15 ppb.

Suffolk County’s own documents, namely the “Review of the 2007-2009 Proposed Capital Program 2007 Capital Budget”, (published in May 2006), as well as the 2006-2008 Proposed Capital Program 2006 Capital Budget, (published in May 2005), refer to lead and other contaminates that resulted from the use of the range stating that “This material has been determined to be hazardous waste and poses a threat to the ground water."   Additionally, recent groundwater samples taken between 2007 and 2008 in an area downgrade of the range near the Carmans River showed elevated levels of arsenic (arsenic is used in the manufacture of lead shot as a hardening agent).

Adrienne Esposito, the Executive Director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment wrote a letter on November 26th, 2008 to Peter Scully (presently the DEC Regional Director) calling for the Suffolk County Trap and Skeet Range to be closed.  In her letter, Ms. Esposito wrote: “The Trap and Skeet facility in Southaven County Park has accumulated high amounts of lead and other contaminants from years of use”, and that “Levels this high pose potential threats to the environment and public health.”  

Ms. Esposito also wrote:  “The soil and water testing clearly indicates that there is significant lead contamination in the surrounding area…CCE would urge the Pine Barrens Commission and the Department of Environmental Conservation to act swiftly to close the trap and skeet facility in Southaven County Park ...” 

For the complete text of Adrienne Esposito's letter, click HERE

Clearly, the presence of the Trap and Skeet range constitutes a threat to the environment as well as a threat to the Carmans River itself.  Suffolk County owns and operates the range and is directly responsible for its impact on the environment.  The County’s own documents as well as findings published by a variety of its own committees and legislative bodies all refer to the range as having a negative impact on the environment and that cannot be ignored. 

Whatever one's position is regarding the need for this facility, the impact it has on its immediate surroundings as well as its impact on concerning the Carmans River and its environs must be considered.  For Suffolk County to claim that it is concerned with protecting the river while ignoring its own role in threatening it is alarming.



The Noise lie...

And the joke of "noise abatement". 

Back when career functionary and professional stooge, Ron Foley, was masquerading as a Parks Commissioner, he claimed that plans for a wall surrounding the facility were scrapped due to high costs. 

This is yet another lie. 

The plans were submitted by the county but would have been deemed "new construction" under the NYSECL and as such would have required permission and project oversight from the Pine Barrens Commission and it would also have designated the Commission as the "lead agency" for the project.  Once Suffolk realized this, they quietly withdrew their plans and instead because whatever game they were running, they sure as hell didn't want any official agency looking over their shoulder.

Commissioner Foley offered up "Hay Bales" as his solution to the noise problem.

Hay Bales... (and he appeared to be serious when he said this)

Additionally, Brookhaven Town noise ordinances DID INDEED APPLY to this range and again, based on past studies, the range would be in violation of those ordinances the moment they opened for business.  The two most often quoted studies of this range are the McClean study and the Hansen study.  Both studies recommend huge "Long Island Expressway-type walls" virtually surrounding the entire facility as a means of noise mitigation. The dimensions of these walls are formidable: roughly 17-feet in height and extending beyond 1,800 feet in length and even at this size, both studies suggest that such walls might not completely mitigate the noise emanating from the facility. 

But the County and all of the range supporters insist that either there is no appreciable noise or that it is not a problem.  This of course is laughable in light of the now over 350 noise citations issued to the range by Brookhaven Town with decibel levels commonly recorded in the 85 to 95 dBA range. 

Furthermore, if noise wasn't an issue, why then did Steve Levy appeal to the Brookhaven Supervisor ( then John LaValle) asking that Brookhaven grant an exemption of its noise law to Suffolk County?  Surely one does not ask for such a thing unless a problem exists.

But Mr. LaValle refused to do any such thing and told Mr. Levy as much in writing in January of 2005 (Click HERE to read Mr. LaValle's letter)

In a rather curious display of solidarity, the prospective Licensee responded in his RFP statement writing:

 "While we of course hope the County of Suffolk can wield its influence and convince the Town of Brookhaven to exempt the property from current noise control codes, we are prepared to proceed in any case.”

That very statement suggests that no one had any intention of acknowledging Brookhaven's law and when the range reopened and was subsequently issued citations for noise violations as he knew would happen, the Licensee immediately filed suit against Brookhaven Town charging that the Town has no right to enforce its law  – the very laws that the Licensee AND Steve Levy knew existed and knew would be enforced long before re-opening the range. 

Put another way, if someone felt compelled to write such a thing THERE HAD TO BE A PROBLEM!

Additionally in 2004 Steve Levy had the opportunity to place his pet project on the "Hardship Exemption" list which would have allowed him to sidestep (legally) many of the NYSECL criteria, particularly those concerning new construction.  New construction is virtually forbidden in the Core Preservation Area of the Pine Barrens (where the range exists), and certainly over 30,000 square feet of concrete walls along with the foundations required to hold them upright would simply not be allowed to be built. 

In January of 2004, Steve Levy set out to ask the Pine Barrens Commission about this Hardship Exemption and it was addressed by the Commission and a public hearing was scheduled.

Summary: Ms. Jakobsen explained that the attached correspondence has been received from Suffolk County Parks regarding proposed improvements to the trap and skeet range on the west side of Southaven County Park, along the east side of Gerard Road. One of the several improvements is the construction of a noise barrier approximately 17 feet tall and 1,850 feet in length.
The letter notes that Suffolk County seeks to be the lead agency. Ms. Jakobsen noted that the Pine Barrens Plan requires the Commission to seek lead agency status for development within the Core area, if the Commission finds that this project constitutes “development” under the pine barrens act.
Present for today’s discussion was Mr. Nicholas Gibbons, an Environmental Analyst with the Parks Department, who distributed the attached aerial photos of the site and explained the purpose and details of the project. He also noted that the Suffolk County Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has asked him to coordinate the project review pursuant to SEQRA, and that the CEQ understands that the Commission must seek lead agency status for development projects in the Core area. Mr. Gibbons also noted that the original project has been slightly altered so that the wall will be constructed entirely within a previously cleared area, and no new vegetation removal would be required.

A motion was then made by Mr. Thompson and seconded by Mr. Turner (1) to find that the project does constitute “development” under the state Pine Barrens law, and (2) to deem the request to be a Core hardship application and to schedule a public hearing on it for 3:00 pm at the 01/19/05 Commission meeting. The motion was approved by a 4-0 vote.

Commission Meeting Summary (FINAL) for Wednesday, December 15, 2004 (Approved 1/19/05) at the Suffolk County Park Police and Pine Barrens Center at Southaven County Park, Yaphank, 2:00 pm

But then, the following month (January of 2005), the County mysteriously withdrew its request.

Summary: A separate stenographic transcript exists for this item.

This application was withdrawn by the applicant.

In a letter sent to the Central Pine Barrens Commission from Nicholas Gibbons, Senior Environmental Analyst for SC parks, dated January 18, 2005 he wrote: "Suffolk County Parks requests that the hearings scheduled for the Tuesday, January 19, 2005, Pine Barrens Commission meeting be indefinitely postponed. Parks is withdrawing our application at this time while several outstanding issues are addressed. When our proposal is finally completed, we will return to the commission pursuant to state law."  
Commission Meeting Summary (FINAL) for Wednesday, January 19, 2005 (Approved 2/16/05) at the Brookhaven Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill, Farmingville, 2:00 pm Southaven County Park Trap and Skeet Range Improvements / Yaphank (200-745-1-1, etc.) / hardship (Withdrawal letter received; decision on application currently due 4/14/05)

A Hardship Exemption might have allowed the range to legally reopen and it's a mystery to this day just why the County chose to pass on that option (although we DO have our suspicions...).

The result of course is a Catch-22. 

The County can promise all the noise mitigation it wants, but it's not allowed to build what's necessary so the entire issue becomes akin to a dog chasing its tail.  Meanwhile, the current vendor has apparently decided that abiding by the existing Brookhaven noise laws - laws WHICH WERE IN PLACE LONG BEFORE ANY CONTRACTS WERE SIGNED and laws that both the vendor and the County were told would not allow any exemption for the range - is a waste of its time and instead it ended up in a lawsuit with the Town of Brookhaven fighting the very law that everyone knew was going to be a problem long before the range reopened.

You can't make this stuff up!



It's painfully obvious that noise has ALWAYS been an issue and not just since 2006.

All of the people involved with the reopening of this range were well aware of the noise problem.

All of the studies done showed that noise was an issue and all of the various agencies who debated the reopening of the range knew this as well.  Most importantly, everyone knew, long before the range was reopened, that Brookhaven's noise law was going to be a problem and all were aware that Brookhaven had no intention of granting any exemptions.  It was made eminently clear that if the range was reopened, the County would be breaking the law.

Yet they chose to ignore their own studies.

They chose to ignore problems a blind man could see.

They chose to break the law.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that either these  "leaders and lawmakers" were unable to avail themselves of the brains they were born with...

...or they simply sold themselves to the highest bidder.

Two equally disturbing notions.



Bonus Lie!

Lastly, the Licensee's comments on addressing the needs of the community. 
In the eighteen or so months that the "secret meetings" and negotiations between he and the county had been taking place, speaking at legislative meetings, he told legislators about how he wanted to be a "good neighbor" and wanted to "work with the community" and to have the range become an asset to the community, and blah, blah, blah... and indeed even after he reopened the range, he had mentioned "addressing our concerns" on many occasions.  Apparently treating neighbors with contempt and trying to avoid abiding by the law are the Licensee's idea of being a swell guy, but what's worse is that his actions appeared to be sanctioned by former County Executive Steve Levy and the rest of the so-called "lawmakers" who GULPED the Kool-Aid and looked the other way.



The County and its Licensee are currently embroiled in two lawsuits; one involving Brookhaven's Noise Ordinance and the other a civil suit challenging a variety of issues.  This litigation has taxed the resources of the County and the Town of Brookhaven to the tune of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and are being dragged out by both the County and their Licensee, Hunter Sports in order to delay the inevitable --  that the range would be ticketed for noise violations (which it has) and that a court would find it guilty of doing so (which it has) all proving what we’ve been saying all along – that the range should never have been allowed to reopen.

But rather than accept that simple fact, the range's Licensee (with the County in tow) continues to jam the courts with pointless lawsuits claiming that the law they all acknowledged and all knew of well in advance of reopening the range is now somehow unfair and like a couple of spoiled children they simply cannot admit that reopening the range was a bad idea and that neither of their legal claims have any merit.  The Town of Brookhaven has so far won its legal battles and the most recent ruling in the civil case stated (in part) that the Town has a "Constitutional Right" to enforce its noise laws and that's exactly what it's doing.

Since the court ruling became official in late October of 2011, the Town of Brookhaven has issued well over 350 citations for noise violations for which both the County and the range's vendor must answer.  Having spent well in excess of $250,000.00 in legal fees as well as having had to finance an independent consultant to evaluate the noise issue overall, the Town is seeking the maximum in terms of fines and that could result in each citation costing the County (and of course the taxpayers) $250.00.  Right now, that would mean that the County has already racked up over $25,000.00 in fines and they will just keep coming as long as the range remains open.

In December of 2012, the operator of the shooting range was found guilty of violating the Town of Brookhaven Code, Section 50-5A (the noise law) and was fined.  The operator has chosen to drag this out even further by appealing that conviction and it will take months to complete that process but the Town feels confident that the conviction will be upheld.  Even if by some miracle the operator prevails and the verdict is overturned, there are hundreds more violations to be processed and sooner or later one of them is going to stick and that would likely signal the end of the shooting range for good.

Of course all of this could have been avoided if the County’s so-called leaders had listened to reason instead of fanaticism but apparently they’re more concerned with their NRA-rating than they are of upholding the law.

Breaking the law and paying fines to operate a shooting range is ridiculous and a slap in the face of law-abiding people everywhere.  But tilting at windmills and wasting taxpayer dollars doing so at a time when you're laying people off and cutting services to save money is a cynical slap in the face of the taxpayers who are already footing the bill for this fiasco.  

No special interest group is worth that.




©2013 South Yaphank Civic Association