Shot down

Story By: LINDA LEUZZI, Editor

Long Island Advance, 09 May 2013

                               

Legis. Kate Browning tried to muzzle the noise from the Suffolk County Trap and Skeet last Wednesday, introducing a bill to the Parks and Recreation Committee to close the Yaphank facility, currently in litigation with the Town of Brookhaven for noise violations.  The committee, Legislators Lynne Nowick, Lou D’Amaro, Kara Hahn, Wayne Horsley and Steve Stern, unanimously voted no.  “We put in the bill and didn’t advertise it and in less than two weeks there were 50 or 60 speakers with close to 200 people there,” said Browning aide Josh Slaughter. People were standing in the lobby. It’s a strong, close-knit gun community, so they fight it tooth and nail.”

Horsley told the Advance he was hoping to mitigate the noise for the neighbor- hood as well as help the Trap & Skeet and had suggested to Browning that there are smaller and less expensive noise mitigation walls he felt were worth investigating. “It’s a legitimate sport and if we can make the sound and noise issues go away, it would be a win-win for everyone,” he said.

“Good luck doing that,” Browning said.  “It’s core Pine Barrens and you won’t be able to do it,” she added. “They won’t allow development. There was a timeline when they could submit a hardship application, but it’s expired.”

As far back as April 29, 2003, then legislative counsel Paul Sabatino commented in Suffolk County Legislature General Meeting Minutes anyone operating that facility would have to be in compliance with state, federal and local law citing Brookhaven’s town ordinance with noise issue. The issue was even questioned by a legislator in a subsequent meeting who asked, “why would the county expose itself to that liability after it’s been disclosed we would not be complying with town codes?”  Browning and Councilwoman Connie Kepert are trying to get relief for the resi- dents who live nearby; only two lanes of traffic, a lane for each direction, separate the facility on Gerard Road, they argue. Kepert’s office has documented the noise levels exceed 65 decibels.

Mark Wroobel, the Hunter Sports concessionaire operating at the Trap and Skeet, said in an earlier interview it was only a handful of residents who were leading the charge. “The room was completely filled and only a handful of the neighbors that didn’t support us showed up,” Wroobel said of last Wednesday’s committee meeting. “And this is time and time again that there’s been overwhelming support from the shooting community and even in the local community itself. If it were such a bad thing, more people would have come out to support the resolution. What I can tell you is our position has been the same. We don’t believe the county and myself have to comply with the town’s noise ordinance. From 1987 to 2006, there was never one summons issued from the town. It was only after the homes were built that there was pressure on the town to get summonses. They were giving out five or 10 a day.”

Wroobel said the range, open five days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., isn’t always operational because of the weather. “It rains some days, it’s hot other days,” he said.

He was asked about sound mitigation.

“If someone can come up with a plan that’s reasonable, we’d all be behind it,” he said. “I will do anything to mitigate the sound. The question is, will it work? There are so many factors that would control that. We had five major votes and hearings and full agenda meetings of bipartisan support. We had it over six years. One was 16-1 and one was 17-1 [approving him as concessionaire]. Last week’s vote was bipartisan support the whole time.”  A 6th District Court ruling in December by Judge James P. Flanagan determined that Hunter Sports Shooting Grounds Inc., the Suffolk County Trap and Skeet facility run by Wroobel, was found guilty of violating Brookhaven Town’s noise ordinance on one ticket. The ruling was an appeal of the Oct. 6, 2011 decision by acting New York State Supreme Court Judge Joseph Farneti, who ruled that the Town of Brookhaven’s sound ordinance was constitutional and could rightfully be enforced against Hunter Sports Shooting Grounds, the licensee/operator of the Trap and Skeet.

Each side claimed a victory to the recent ruling.

“When the town measures with a noise meter from someone’s stoop, they’ve gotten levels above 65 decibels again and again,” Kepert said. “That’s not in dispute. The issue is they have to obey our noise ordinance. We’re waiting to hear. It’s a county facility and the county can vote it down. I was surprised the Parks Committee voted 5-0. It’s not about the sport, it’s about the location. We’ve been looking for an alternative location. But when we think there’s an alternative, it’s shot down.”  Wroobel said he wasn’t against relocation. “We said anything that would work to keep the range open, as long as it was reasonable and wasn’t in the boonies,” he said. “We weren’t opposed to it. Firearms is a hot potato issue, but people need a facility like this for recreational firearms.”

In a November 2009 Advance interview with then County Executive Steve Levy, Levy commented he was willing to take noise mitigation measures but wouldn’t make 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,” he said.  Horsley was told of specific environmental reports, including a Cashin Associate report from March 2002, “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,” it said; a 2004 L.K. McLean Associates Analysis of Noise and Lead Mitigation at the range cited at the time there was about 250 tons of lead being deposited at the range. Lead could be introduced to the environment via being exposed to air, dissolving when exposed to acidic water or soil, lead shot can be moved by stormwater runoff, and dissolved lead can migrate through soils to groundwater, it said. L.K. McLean Associates also said in a 2004 report, “The Suffolk County Trap and Skeet Range does not conform to the EPA Best Management Practices for lead removal, allowing discharge lead to accumulate.”

Wroobel did conduct lead reclamation in 2010, Slaughter said, about $15,000.  “The county allowed him to apply $10,000 to his fee; $5,000 went to capital expenditures,” Slaughter said. Wroobel sold the lead; the county received 5 percent of the $45,000 that was sold, he said. “From what I have read, the lead contamination is minimal to the park itself,” Horsley said when the reports were brought up. “I’m not sure the lead breaks down like that. I haven’t seen that it’s a contaminant.”  Legis. Hahn did not return phone calls for comment by deadline.

Browning said the reports were handed out to all the committee members. “I guess he chose not to read it and that’s why he didn’t vote for the resolution,” she said. Wroobel said he’s had environmental reports conducted that were acceptable to the legislature.  Horsley said the committee’s overall response was prompted by the lawsuit. “Maybe the answer is to wait until after the lawsuit and things may change,” he said.