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News / Clark County News

FBI proposal to continue using Camp Bonneville as shooting range raises questions, concerns

Clark County Council discusses new contract with federal law enforcement agency

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 14, 2024, 6:06am

Camp Bonneville’s days as a military weapons training facility may be over, but at least one federal agency wants to continue using the former U.S. Army post as a shooting range.

The Clark County Council had a preliminary discussion at its March 6 meeting about signing a new contract with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The federal agency’s previous shooting range contract expired in December 2022.

“I want to see it well-run. I want to make sure we have a plan in place to clean it up, to improve it, to make sure there are best practices for sound barriers put in place,” Council Chair Gary Medvigy said.

Ownership of the 3,400-acre former military base was transferred from the Army to Clark County in 2011. The same year, cleanup activities began on the property, which lies north of Camas and southeast of Battle Ground. The county worked with the state Department of Ecology and Army to remove lead and unexploded munitions left over from nine decades of military training, with the eventual aim of opening it to the public.

That cleanup is now finished, although Ecology is reviewing the work to determine if more is needed and what ongoing maintenance is required. Once Ecology completes this process, the site can be considered for public use.

Medvigy has advocated for other uses of the Camp Bonneville site in the past, including creating a home for veterans. The county will eventually create a master plan for the property. In the meantime, officials say continuing to allow a shooting range is certainly feasible.

Rocky Houston, division manager for Parks and Lands, said a reuse plan was created before the land was transferred to the county. The plan was last updated in 2005.

“In there was public shooting ranges and nonpublic, professional shooting range elements,” Houston said. “The use for the range for the FBI was something discussed and identified. It’s not a requirement. It’s something that was allowed and considered through that process.”

However, Houston said a shooting range impacts other potential uses for the property, which must be considered.

Erik Harrison, program manager for Camp Bonneville, confirmed the land-use agreement allows for a shooting range.

“The FBI (has) been a good tenant. … They are very proactive, they have come to me several times that they want to improve the range. They have the funding for that,” Harrison told the council.

Medvigy said he fully supported making improvements to the shooting range as long as the county is reimbursed for its efforts. Medvigy also suggested that no shooting be allowed during nighttime hours, or on weekends and holidays.

“I know they want to do nighttime firing, but they shouldn’t have it unless it’s indoors or suppressed. I don’t think the sheriff’s office has many suppressed weapons,” Medvigy said.

Sgt. Chris Skidmore, public information officer for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, said the agency is currently using the Camp Bonneville shooting range. Skidmore said the sheriff’s office moved from the English Pit range, which is still used by other law enforcement agencies, to Camp Bonneville in 2021.

“The FBI actually built the Camp Bonneville range while the federal government still owned the property before it was transferred to the county. CCSO has used the range by an agreement with the county and the FBI. I am unaware of any plan that would not allow CCSO to use the range at Camp Bonneville,” Skidmore said Wednesday.

Neighborhood opposition

Not everyone supports the idea of continuing to use the shooting range. In a March 5 letter to the county and others, local resident Gregory Shaw wrote there are too many downsides to an agreement with the federal agency. He said allowing anyone to use the Camp Bonneville range will only compound environmental damage at the site and interfere with cleanup efforts, delaying future access and uses for the property.

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“The FBI shooting is loud enough to be easily heard through triple-glazed windows at homes more than 2 miles from the range. This disturbance is magnified by fog, snow or low cloud cover. It is also a major, serious disruption throughout the entire portion of Camp Bonneville once proposed as a public park,” Shaw wrote.

He also claimed the FBI has not been a good tenant and has a history of violating the terms of prior agreements. Shaw said the law enforcement agency has used weapons and explosives and trained in areas not allowed under the agreement’s terms and has invited other agencies to use the property without notifying the county as required.

Once negotiations with the FBI are complete, a draft agreement will be brought before the council for review. Deputy Manager Amber Emery said no date for that review has been set.

To watch the full meeting or for more information, go to https://clark.wa.gov/councilors/clark-county-council-meetings.