SC Online Content Editor
GEORGETOWN -- A proposed shooting range west of Georgetown would provide hunter education for adults and youths, and would give police officers a place to train closer than Smyrna.
The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is proposing a hunter education, law enforcement training center and public shooting range for a 2,000-acre tract west of Georgetown.
The state Division of Fish and Wildlife owns the property, including the Old Furnace Wildlife Area, which would become a hunter education center. Currently the only state-run hunter education facility is in New Castle County.
Also on the property would be a training area for law enforcement agencies -- a boon to officers who now have to travel more than an hour away from their jurisdictions for firearms training.
Ocean View Police Chief Kenneth McLaughlin told Sussex County Council on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2003 that such a facility is "long overdue in Sussex County." McLaughlin, chairman of the Sussex County Police Chiefs Association, said all 20 muncipal police chiefs support the idea.
Michael Friel, hunter education administrator for the fish and wildlife division, said the closer facility would allow officers to be able to return more quickly to their towns in the event of an emergency.
Blades Police Chief Glenn Condon, secretary of the Sussex chiefs' association, said his three officers travel to Salisbury, Md. for their shooting practice. To keep their certification, they must shoot three times a year, Condon said.
Some agencies go to the state's New Castle County facility, while others use private ranges that are closer to home. Condon said some private facilities "may not be as environmentally friendly" as the state-of-the-art facility the state is proposing. The lead shot at the range would be recycled
Friel also stressed the importance of the hunter education programs that would be available. Up to 75 students at a time could be comfortably instructed, Friel said. Programs held at the Ommelanden facility in New Castle County include overnight camps for youth groups, as well as programs sponsored by the Delaware Wild Turkey Federation and Bassmasters.
Along with gun safety programs, Friel said, the facility will provide a safe place for target practice. "Unfortunately, in the next 20 years, it will become increasingly difficult to shoot in your backyard," he said.
During the past summer, five public hearings were held on the proposal. According to Friel, no objections were raised. At Tuesday's county council meeting, one neighbor of the Old Furnace property expressed concerns about traffic that would be generated by the facility.
Frank Perdue of Rementer Road said that "what I've heard today sounds good," but said he wants to know where the entrance would be.
Perdue said he's less worried about the safety of his home with the proposed range than he is with the existing hunting, because of deer hunting nearby. "We live in a war zone when deer season is on," Perdue said. "We crawl to our cars in the morning."
The facility would be set aside for use by law enforcement agencies at least two days a week, and would be open to the public during the remaining days, Friel said.
Funding would come from state and federal governments -- with part of the state money coming from hunting licenses. "We're not asking for any money (from the county) today," Friel said. "Today," said County Administrator Robert Stickels.
Before anything is built, a federal environmental impact assessment must be completed, Friel said. After the design of the facility is completed, there will be two or three more public meetings, he said.
The council will consider a resolution supporting the proposal at its Jan. 21 meeting.
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