Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Firing range has foes

Paradise for wildlife or target practice?

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MADISON TOWNSHIP — A serene, 191-acre wooded area along the Great Miami River in rural Madison Township has become a battleground of sorts.

        It's the focus of a tussle between the Butler County Sheriff's Department and a non-profit group that is restoring the 126-year-old Chrisholm farmstead, an important remnant of the county's Amish history.

        The Friends of Chrisholm had been planning to use that county-owned property, across Woodsdale Road from the Chrisholm farmstead, as a wildlife preserve and hiking area.

        But the sheriff's department and West Chester Township police are building a firing range on 25 acres of the property for professional training. For safety reasons, the sheriff's department does not want another group using any part of the 191 acres.

        “It doesn't make much sense to have people walking around where you're shooting guns,” said Col. Richard K. Jones, the sheriff's chief deputy,.

        Anne Jantzen, president of the Friends of Chrisholm, says the firing range will destroy her group's plans for that land, and that it clashes with the ambiance of the area.

        She said the construction of the firing range took her group by surprise. She accused the sheriff's department of deliberately hiding its plans for the firing range from her group and the public.

        “We feel the sheriff's department has not been acting as a good neighbor,” Mrs. Jantzen said. “We're really alarmed that all this happened secretly and without full public disclosure.”

        Martha Gorman, vice president of the Friends of Chrisholm, told the commissioners Monday that her family operates about 1,000 acres of farmland near the shooting range.

        She asked the commissioners to halt construction of the firing range until concerns over safety, noise and visual blight can be addressed.

        “There has to be a better alternative,” she said.

        Col. Jones denied that the sheriff's department placed a cloak of secrecy over the project.

Approvals gained
               Plans for the firing range were discussed at a county board of zoning appeals meeting, but Mrs. Jantzen said her group was not notified of the meeting. County commissioners gave the sheriff's office permission to set up the range and the plan was approved by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

        The firing range will re place another that has been on that land for about 20 years. In another part of the property, Sheriff Harold Don Gabbard has a vegetable garden tended by inmates. The garden produced food for the county jail and for the homeless.

        The garden, which does not affect the firing range or put the inmates in harm's way, will remain at its site.

        The old firing range, located near the Great Miami River, was often flooded and unusable.

        So, the sheriff's department developed plans to build a range outside the flood plain. The board of zoning appeals approved the plans.

        Col. Jones said the Friends of Chrisholm had been given advance notice that the board of zoning appeals would consider this issue at its Jan. 19, 1999 meeting.

        County Administrator Derek Conklin said notices were sent to the proper parties, but did not all go to home addresses. That resulted in the Friends of Chrisholm and some nearby residents being unaware of the meeting, he said.

        The property, a former landfill, is owned by MetroParks of Butler County.

        The Friends of Chrisholm are in the midst of a $1 million restoration of the farmstead. The group has raised more than $100,000 from private donations, and the county has secured a $150,000 federal grant for the project.

        Past settlements
       In 1830, Christian Augspurger, the leader of the Amish-Mennonite settlement in the valley, built a house at the Woodsdale Road site. Fire destroyed that home in 1873. The following year, Samuel Augspurger, his son, built the existing brick farmhouse.

        The settlement became an important stopover for immigrants moving west, Mrs. Jantzen said.

        Christian Augspurger first arrived at the site by boat on the Great Miami. That's one of the reasons the disputed property along the Great Miami bears historic significance, Mrs. Jantzen said.

        She called the new firing range “a big intrusion.”

        She worries that noise will be a disturbance and will undermine her group's efforts to restore the farmstead.

        “If the county commissioners understood the importance of our historic site,” Mrs. Jantzen said, “there's no way they would have approved this shooting range being there.”

        Commissioners declined to stop construction of the firing range Monday. But they said they would like to see part of the 191 acres used as a public park, as the Friends of Chrisholm propose.

        “The issue of safety is paramount,” Commissioner Mike Fox said. “We have to make sure we're doing all we can to minimize the risk.”

        Commissioner Chuck Furmon said he hopes the Friends of Chrisholm and the sheriff's department can work out a compromise.

        “I don't see why they can't co-exist,” he said.

        MetroParks officials have had their eyes on that land for 10 years, but they're taking a softer stance on the firing range than the Friends of Chrisholm.

        “We respect the sheriff's needs,” said Mike Muska, MetroParks director. “We're trying to look at this in a cooperative way and see if part of the land could safely be used for park and recreation purposes and could be connected with the Chrisholm property.”

        West Chester Township Police Capt. John Bruce said he didn't know anyone opposed the firing range until last week.

        Col. Jones said the firing range won't be used every day and that the noise should not pose a problem for the Chrisholm farmstead.

        Mrs. Jantzen and her cohorts say they will keep trying to convince county officials to allow them to use part of the disputed property.

        “The decision to allow a firing range there,” Mrs. Jantzen said, “is an embarrassment to the county.”


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