Future of Trap & Skeet uncertain
Trap & Skeet placed under Pine Barrens Commission jurisdiction
Long Island Advance June 24, 2010

By LINDA LEUZZI

One thing everyone can agree on regarding the issues surrounding the Southaven County Park Trap & Skeet Range is that the same issues still linger. But perhaps a ceasefire is imminent. Last Wednesday, a ruling by the Pine Barrens Commission led by Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko placed the shooting range under its jurisdiction.

The decision also stated the reopening of the range, which was closed for use by the general public by Suffolk County Parks because of health, noise and safety violations in 2001 and reopened in 2006, constituted development because it represented re-establishment of a use that had been abandoned for one year as defined in the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act. There was another directive. “It needs a core hardship application,” said current Pine Barrens Commissioner John Pavicic. “And the commission ordered Suffolk County to submit such an application.”

At a raucous press conference on Saturday at the range, Councilwoman Connie Kepert (4th District) and County Legislator Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) announced a celebration of that victory as well as Browning’s intent to help move the facility to another site, standing their ground in front of Trap & Skeet supporters who shouted and booed during their presentations. Browning, who headed up a Trap & Skeet Search Committee, submitted a report with alternate locations for the Yaphank facility last March. Leading the possibilities were the Long Island Shooting Range of Brookhaven in Ridge, the North Fork Preserve, still in county negotiations and the Long Island Beagle Club property in Calverton, she said.

Mark Wrobel, the Hunter Sports Shooting Grounds Inc. licensee, was asked what the Pine Barrens ruling meant to him and whether he would be able to continue at the Gerard Road site. “Right now it will be the county’s decision,” he said, standing by the entrance. “It’s in the commission’s jurisdiction. I don’t know if the county is legally liable to do anything. And the wording is all a matter of interpretation. It wasn’t abandonment. That sign’s been up here since Day 1.”

A Suffolk County official said the county would follow the ruling of the courts. “In a previous administration, the legislature allocated funds to re-open the range,” said Suffolk Parks Deputy Commissioner Joseph Montuori, who was just voted in by the legislature as commissioner in an e-mail, replacing Pavicic. “We’ve abided by the directive of the legislature and will follow any rulings so ordered by a court as to the range’s future.”

Lesko put it more succinctly: “They disagree and there’s a likelihood it will wind up in the courts, but I’m going to attempt to negotiate with the county in a way that makes sense to everyone,” he said. The hardship application was like a waiver application, he said. “It applies to properties in the core or compatible growth area if a project cannot comply with the clearing limits.” Among the Trap & Skeet’s legal issues were the construction of a new deck and ramp as well as the installation of 1,200 feet of fencing and the installation of a 17-foot wooden noise barrier wall on the sporting clay course conducted without the review or permission of the Pine Barrens Commission. According to Pine Barrens Commission minutes, that project was deemed development at a Dec. 15, 2004 Pine Barrens Commission meeting and a request for a hardship application was made back then. At the Jan. 19, 2005 Pine Barrens Commission meeting at Brookhaven Town Hall, the hardship application was withdrawn by Suffolk County Parks. Also, Brookhaven’s Town Code 85- 372 for non-conforming use states discontinuance of any nonconforming use for a period of one year or more terminates its designation.

The noise issue has also been a running battle. The facility is open five days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. During 2009-2010, the town issued 21 summonses against Suffolk County and 32 against the Trap & Skeet, said Kepert aide John Byrne. “We’ve been taken to court for noise violations by the town of Brookhaven and they won,” Browning said. “Initially, it was the vendor who was ticketed. Then the county was ticketed. In the contract, it says the county executive has the discretion to close the facility. He hasn’t done that. If we continue to get tickets, it’s going to get very costly.”

The wrangling that has occurred over the last few years at the 60-acre site, 43 of which are used for the shooting range, represents a volley of words and actions as strong as the shots heard weekly. One lane each way on Gerard Road separates homeowners from the Trap & Skeet. Supporters point out it was there first and is one of the few gun ranges around and Wrobel said in a past interview the legislature approved it with a 17-to-1 vote after five major meetings. The county has stated it generated revenue and was one of a wide range of activities provided for its residents. But locals like Johan McConnell, president of the South Yaphank Civic Association and John Palasek say that its creation originated in the 1950s when it was privately owned with a large buffer of open private property and no development around its perimeter. When the nearby land was purchased in the early 1990s, future homeowners inquired several times about its existence with comments by officials that it was moving; one document obtained by The Long Island Advance includes a letter from the county executive’s office that goes back as far as 1993 to a constituent complaining about the Trap & Skeet that Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation had been looking for a new location for the range.

The promises apparently continued. Chris and Joanna Broszeit, who were debating quietly with Trap & Skeet supporter Mark Gorman, said they specificallycalled the town and the county before they purchased their home, five blocks away, in early 2000. “We were told it was abandoned and closed,” said Joanna Broszeit. “Two years later, it opened.” When Gorman, who hails from Bay Shore, questioned the noise impact with closed windows, Joanna Broszeit said the noise from the facility echoes all day and kept their child from sleeping at times. “It’s not a gun issue or a sportsman issue,” she told Gorman. “It’s a noise and environmental and a water issue.” Right now, the town is also in the middle of developing a Carmans River Protection Plan and the Trap & Skeet facility is a stone’s throw away. Lead reclamation, although promised as forthcoming by licensee Wrobel, is yet to take place. Last year, then-county parks commissioner Pavicic stated it would happen but wouldn’t commit to a time frame.

The political paddle ball game was addressed by Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, who uses the Ridge range occasionally himself, at last week’s Pine Barrens Commission meeting. Five members sit on the board including three town supervisors. Newly elected Walter and Anna E.Throne-Holst, Southampton’s supervisor, voted with Lesko. DEC Regional Commissioner Peter Scully abstained and the county’s Department of Environment and Energy Carrie Meek Gallagher, who was reportedly present during the meeting but did not vote and was listed as absent. The county did not comment on Gallagher’s no vote. Pavicic, who served as Suffolk County Parks Commissioner, said he was recusing himself from Trap & Skeet issues.

“I said it’s unconscionable that this issue is before the Pine Barrens Commission and we sit back and do nothing and the commission isn’t forced to do anything,” said Walter, who began sitting on the Pine Barrens Commission in January. “And for it to languish doesn’t do the gun club any good and the people in the neighborhood any good. Supervisor involvement hasn’t happened for a long time. It’s our responsibility to appear and I think the other supervisors feel the same way.” ■