Another round involving
Trap & Skeet

Appellate Court decision favors town; county won’t budge
Long Island Advance
December 3, 2009

By LINDA LEUZZI

Johan and John McConnell have almost become legal experts on the Southaven Park Trap and Skeet Range, a 60-acre site, 43 of which are used as a shooting range, right down the road on Gerard Avenue. So has their neighbor John Palasek. They’re hoping the recent Appellate Court decision will stick, which would make the county, along with the operator of the Trap and Skeet Range, Hunter Sports Shooting Grounds Inc., liable for fines on any noise violations at the Yaphank locale. “The District Court will decide if he’s broken the laws and gets the fine,” said Johan McConnell, president of the South Yaphank Civic Association, of the owner of Hunter Sports. “If he gets the fine, then so does the county.” Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Connie Kepert (4th District) said it was an important win for Brookhaven Town. “It means the county was attempting to again stop us on our noise ordinance and asking for another delay. The court said no.”

Another court decision has come down the pike, or more accurately Gerard Road, since the town has stepped up its enforcement of noise violations on this county facility smack in the middle of the residential neighborhood that surrounds it. Kepert said her office had been hammering away at the issue for three years, since she was first elected to her district. “It has been a long and frustrating process,” she said. “My message to the county is, ‘Find another location appropriate for the activity.’”

Not so fast, say advocates for Southaven Park Trap & Skeet range. County Executive Steve Levy said he inherited a Trap & Skeet program that had been approved by a previous administration. A resolution passed in 2003 to bring in a new operator took place while he was still a state assemblyman. “I took office in 2004 and people were asking me to stop it,” he said. “I met with residents who asked for money for noise abatement. I said I first wanted a written statement from the town that they would not challenge the Trap & Skeet facility before I invested money for that abatement. The town never gave us that assurance and have been trying to close us down. I was very clear as to what I would do. I was willing to take mitigation measures, but I wouldn’t do an expenditure of $1 million if the town says we don’t believe it’s the county’s jurisdiction. Then it’s not worth it. And that’s where we’re at.”

For licensee Mark Wrobel, the decision to apply for and run the Southaven Park Trap & Skeet facility wasn’t a frivolous one. A regular customer at the Southaven location since he was younger, Wrobel is also the owner of a hunting and sporting business in Massapequa for 18 years. “I shot (at Southaven Park) many times and when it closed I started to attend the meetings (regarding a new licensee) and I listened to both sides of the argument,” he said. “I saw it was a business to go into. And I saw that even more when I saw the amount of people who went to the meeting (especially) when you see hundreds turn out for it and only a few are against it.”

The range first opened in the 1950s. It was privately owned then and called the Suffolk Lodge Game Preserve with a large buffer of open private property. When that buffer of nearby land was purchased in the early 1990s for new homes, residents say they were told by developers the facility was moving. A December 1993 letter from then-County Executive Robert Gaffney’s office to a constituent on Gerard Road who had complained about the Trap & Skeet facility then stated the Department of Parks had been looking for a new location.

That never happened.

Another potential licensee was interested in early 2000, Wrobel said. “That person wound up redrawing,” he explained. “I did respond to the RFP and spent a lot of time on the proposal but it didn’t work for me personally. (Later on) it was a better contract for me and I decided to move forward. There were two major resolutions voted on in December 2005. One was for the re- opening, the other was for the contract to be authorized. We got an overwhelming majority vote. It was bipartisan and we had a 17-to-1 vote. It required 12. It went through five major meetings.” The Trap & Skeet is open five days a week. “When you build around something, it’s not the fault of the facility that’s already there,” Wrobel said. There were local residents who use it, he said. “We have a very good base within a mile of the facility with patrons,” he added. “There are very few places on Long Island for people to use firearms in a safe and enjoyable manner.” As for those against the Trap & Skeet, Wrobel pointed out around eight people showed up at one press conference against the facility and at another time there were none, he said.

Kepert countered that comment. “I’m a big advocate of going door-to-door and it is not eight people, it is the entire community,” she said. “It is the entire community being impaired by the noise so I would question that statement. The noise echoes and bounces off the sump. You’ll always have some people out front on a concern.” In the minutes of the Central Pine Barrens Advisory Committee, held on March 9, 2006, a motion to advise the Pine Barrens Commission to oppose the reopening of the facility was seconded. Five on the commission voted for the opposition; two voted no.

McConnell said over 1,000 signatures had been amassed by her organization opposing the reopening in 2006 and there were at least two major demonstrations with 40 and 50 people attending. “There were 178 homes who had their assessment lowered because of that range,” she said. “It was lowered in 2007 and it kicked in for 2008. So that means lower taxes to the county and the school because of it.” Kepert added she had no issues with the activity and that it was a viable recreational outlet. “Unfortunately, it is too close to the neighborhood and the county cannot engage in the mitigation that would reduce the sound level,” she said. “That would be in violation of the Pine Barrens Act because it would be considered construction and they can’t build in the core.”

County Parks Commissioner John Pavicic said in May that shooting stations closest to Gerard Road were oriented in such a way so that the noise sound from the firearm was projected to the east. Sound absorbing panels were placed on the inside of separate partitions from top to bottom and there were berms to help minimize the noise as well as other sound attenuations. Since then, Pavicic said, no other sound abatements were planned. But lead reclamation was. A full environmental stewardship plan may be in the works the first of next year. “We’ll post it on our Web site,” Wrobel said. “We’ve been actively pursuing lead reclamation. We will be doing it next spring. The water is fine. Suffolk County comes in frequently and tests the water and there’s no contamination problem. If someone is going to make a statement it should be proven, and I can prove this.” Wrobel said he has invested $238,000 in the Trap & Skeet and over $150,000 in legal fees. “I’m a working guy at the range or at the store in Massapequa making sure my businesses are run to the best of my ability,” he said. Would he be willing to sit down with the local residents? “If there was a fair meeting and the common goal was not to close the range, yes, I would sit down with them,” he answered. ■

Possible sites still in the running

The Brookhaven Shooting Range in Ridge, The North Fork Preserve off Sound Avenue in Riverhead, and a site in Manorville are among the possible relocation sites for the county’s Trap & Skeet operation, said Josh Slaughter, Legislator Kate Browning’s aide. Browning (WF-Shirley) submitted a Trap & Skeet Search Committee Report in March with recommendations for other locations sites. “The one in Ridge wouldn’t require purchase money by the county as Brookhaven Town is already operating it,” Slaughter explained. “It would have to be expanded and would need approvals from the Pine Barrens Commission. The North Fork Preserve is in the process of being purchased for preservation purposes but could always be looked at because it had been a private club where part of the property was used for shooting purposes. Manorville is the least likely because it would be costly.” Slaughter said appraisals have not yet been conducted. ■

—Linda Leuzzi