Trap & Skeet needs close look

Long Island Advance
March 3, 2011

By John Palasek

The misinformation and hyperbole regarding the Suf­folk County Trap and Skeet range is staggering but that should not preclude facts from being part of the discus­sion. Aside from the obvious quality of life and environ­mental issues created by the range’s presence as well as the rather ominous overtones of its vendor’s recent arrest on illegal gun charges, the opinions being stated as fact on behalf of range supporters are either untrue or at best oversimplified.

Supporters claim that the range brings revenue to the county but there are also very real and very significant concealed costs that need to be examined as well and these hidden costs dwarf any positive revenue.

For example, in 2001 the taxpayers were forced to foot the bill for a cleanup of lead shot and clay target debris that was illegally dumped into the public areas of South­aven Park. In an October 2001 Legislative meeting, then Parks Commissioner Peter Scully stated that the cost was, “between $200,000 and $300,000.” Considering that from 1990 to 2001 the average revenue generated by the range was just $25,000 per year, that single cleanup cost wiped out an entire decade of annuity.

In 2006, Suffolk County allotted $800,000 for noise mit­igation, environmental restoration and general improve­ments. The bonds for this will be paid back at about 5 percent interest over 15 years. The vendor claims that his proceeds average $40,000 per year which would be impressive were it not for the fact that the annual cost to the taxpayers to service those bonds is around $66,000 leaving the county at a LOSS of over $20,000 per year.

The Brookhaven Town Assessor’s office reduced the assessed value of 178 homes in the area by an average of 6 percent based on noise complaint calls received by Brookhaven, citing the reopening of the range as the sole reason. At a modest market value of just $350,000 per home, that equals a loss of almost $4 million in com­munity equity, which translates into a loss of tax revenue for the South Country School District, the town itself and emergency services – and this shortfall is permanent.

The county and the concessionaire are now embroiled in two lawsuits. One involves Brookhaven’s Noise laws – laws that were in place long before any contracts were signed. The second lawsuit takes on the Pine Barrens Commission, which ruled in June of 2010 that the reopening of the range constituted “development” and ordered that the county file a Hardship Application so that the issue can be reviewed. The county ignored this directive and the lawsuit soon followed. This litigation is draining the resources of the county and the town to the tune of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars with no end in sight.

It’s clear that the so-called profits from the range are lost in the overburden of hidden costs and the negative impact on the town, the community and the school dis­trict is affecting far more than just the county coffers. With a county executive claiming fiscal responsibility and threatening closures and layoffs, it’s insulting to know that the people who are actually footing the bill for this range – the taxpayers – are being treated to fairy tales about the range’s solvency when the reality is that it’s little more than a money pit that’s being kept alive for the sake of special interest pandering.

John Palasek is Yaphank resident who lives near the Trap & Skeet range.