Webster-area residents debate proposed shooting range

·4 min read

A proposed target shooting facility in the Webster area is at the centre of a polarized debate.

County of Grande Prairie council held a hearing on the outdoor shooting range proposed by the Saddle Hills Target Sports Association (SHTSA) Monday.

Multiple county residents weighed in on the project.

SHTSA president Mike Davison told Town & Country News he received approval from the provincial government Friday for the use of the Crown land.

County reeve Leanne Beaupre said the county hearing on Monday was recessed to allow for the appeal process before council makes a decision.

The Wapiti Shooters Club’s outdoor rifle and handgun range near Evergreen Park was closed last year due to concerns about errant bullets. Davison said the proposed facility near Webster could become the new home for target shooters who used to frequent the Wapiti club.

“(There were) approximately 3,000 users of Wapiti range in 2019,” said Davison.

“They have no other place to go (but) a range in the Valleyview area,” he said.

The application by SHTSA seeks the county’s re-designation of the land to allow the range.

The 39 hectares (96 acres) are located north of Township Road 750 at Range Road 63, west of Webster Hall.

The land is currently zoned as agricultural and would be re-designated an intensive recreation district if the shooting range proposal goes forward, according to county administration.

Despite the current designation, administration noted the current land use isn’t agricultural, as the area is utilized for hiking, camping, OHV excursions and hunting instead.

SHTSA includes five board members, including Davison, he said.

County administration first became aware of the proposed shooting facility in the summer of 2019, and a public hearing has held where area residents voiced their concerns.

Davison said the SHTSA board was looking at another location in the Webster area, but area residents’ concerns caused them to move away from that proposal.

The county issued the application for re-designation in October for the new site, with the closest residence being 1.2 kilometres away, according to administration.

Davison said the timeline for starting the project would depend on volunteer time, since the equipment and labour will all be volunteer. Donations and corporate sponsorship will cover much of the cost and the range would also be run by volunteers, he said.

The county has received letters on the proposed re-designation, with more than 50 emails in support and approximately 30 opposed, according to administration.

According to county staff, major concerns among opponents are noise, disruptions to wildlife, Crown land access, safety of other land users and increased traffic.

Administration anticipates most traffic will be on Township Road 744 and Range Road 60.

In opposition, local Ferne Lacey-Short wrote she doesn’t “want to live with the constant noise of gun fire.”

“This area of land is where, with my children and grandchildren, we hike, take sleigh rides, ride with the horses - all in the area to be taken over by the gun range,” Lacey-Short wrote.

SHTSA ran unmitigated sound testing last July and found their magnum chambered rifles measured under 30 decibels, and the structures planned around the shooting benches would further act as sound mitigation, Davison said. According to Myhealth.alberta.ca, 30 decibels is comparable to soft music or whispering.

Emma Fimrite, who lives 3.2 km from the proposed range, said the project would “forever change my home and the memories I have yet to make.”

“No longer can I ride my horses without fear of being hit by traffic, stray gunfire, or other issues that will surely arise by inviting city folk into my backyard.”

Davison said the direction of the range is in the opposite direction of any houses in the area.

Webster resident Brandon Watson objected, saying Township Road 744 is “already a very busy road” and “the increased dust and road noise would be nuisance.”

Davison said he’s not expecting great volumes of traffic at a time.

“We’re taking every stop possible to ensure we will operate out of sight and out of mind,” he said.

County resident John Akers was among those who wrote to express support of the proposed facility.

“It would have many great positive (affects) for the area, from bringing people in from other areas which would benefit the local economy, to (being) a great local, safe place for firearms owners,” Akers said.

Another supporter was Daryl Webber, a Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights member from Grande Prairie.

“I believe that a licensed and approved range is the best thing that can help with the safe and legal use of firearms,” Webber wrote.

Webster resident Barbara Nelson wrote in support of the project, noting this “small portion of Saddle Hills … will benefit all county residents and not just a small handful of local residents.”

Alberta’s chief firearms officer’s staff would also have to evaluate the safety to ensure there is “minimal possibility” of errant bullets threatening residents and land users, according to administration.

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News