In the range?

Supreme Court to decide if shooting can resume at Farragut

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COEUR d'ALENE - Arguments before the Idaho Supreme Court on Wednesday differed on whether lives would be at stake if the injunction on the Farragut Shooting Range is lifted.

Idaho Fish and Game, which manages the range, has met the safety provisions set by a district judge to reopen to 500 shooters a year, said Kathleen Trever, representing the agency.

"Fish and Game's standard to open to 500 was unambiguous," Trever said. "Fish and Game has met that standard."

But Harvey Richman, representing a group of nearby residents who sued over fear of escaping bullets, disagreed.

The agency didn't follow expert advice in designing its new safety features, Richman argued. Ricochets could still escape the range, he said.

"The question is, will those ricochets then leave the range and rain down on the public and down-range property owners?" he said, speaking before the justices in a Coeur d'Alene courthouse.

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Fish and Game was appealing a district court ruling last year not to lift the injunction on the range.

Trever pointed out that the agency built several baffles at the shooting range, and made other adjustments to the 100-yard range.

That met Judge John Mitchell's standards to reopen to a limited number of shooters, she said.

Trever contended that Mitchell's ruling last year found the range failed to meet criteria not specified before, specifically NRA and Air Force Engineering Technical guidelines.

Mitchell's new push for additional installments of round baffles and eyebrow berms, that are "open-ended upon future hearings," establishes a "system of goal posts on wheels," she said.

The 2007 order on the case, Trever added, described that "except for the absence of baffles, the range is relatively safe."

Richman emphasized that Mitchell had stipulated no bullets escaping over the range backstop, no matter what.

"Let's assume there's a third way for bullets to leave the range. There's direct fire, ricochets and levitation," he said. "Maybe it's unlikely, but the judge made it clear, no bullets over the backstop."

An engineer with the U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed that "ricochets can and will escape the range," even with the new baffles, Richman said.

"I can't predict if it will be three bullets over the next 50 years, or every Monday," Richman said. "The point is, it's not safe."

Richman pointed out that engineer Clark Vargas had advised Fish and Game to install "at least 27 baffles as a minimum, and 34 as suggested as a maximum," to contain all ricochets.

"What happened here is Fish and Game went the cheap route," Richman said. "They built six, even though their expert said they needed more."

Both sides argued over applying new legislative noise standards to the range, which Mitchell had deemed unconstitutional.

Fish and Game had requested the Legislature establish a shooting facility noise standard, when the agency couldn't agree on the matter with neighbors, Trever said.

Although she said the new Idaho Outdoor Sport Shooting Range Act applies to the range, Richman disagreed. He questioned the Legislature creating a new standard in response to pending litigation affecting a state agency.

The statute's noise level is too high, he said.

"The plaintiffs are not saying the range must be silent," Richman said. "It must be reasonable in its noise."

Three incidents of bullets escaping the range resulted in a group of Bayview residents suing Fish and Game. An injunction has been placed on the range since February, 2007.

The Supreme Court justices will take the arguments under advisement and issue an opinion later.

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