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Shooting range proposal draws fire

May 12, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., is pushing for construction of a $24.9 million federal shooting range on farmland near Harpers Ferry, angering a leading local historic conservationist who said the senator has "betrayed" his constituents.

The proposed shooting range would go on 327 acres near the Civil War-era School House Ridge battlefield. Historic preservationists had hoped to expand the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park onto that property, which is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We see it as a total betrayal on his part," said Paul Rosa, executive director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust organization pushing for the expansion of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Rosa worries that noise from a shooting range would hurt tourism and recreational activities in nearby Harpers Ferry.

"There will be submachine guns chattering every day all day," Rosa said, adding that the Summit Point Raceway complex on the other side of Jefferson County has a shooting range sometimes used by federal agencies.

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Rosa had hoped Byrd would introduce legislation to permit the expansion of the park.

Rosa said the senator said he would consider introducing legislation to permit expansion of the park if shown there was strong public support. An October public hearing in Charles Town on the matter showed park expansion was popular with the people, Rosa said.

"He wanted to see evidence of public support and we provided that ten-fold," he said.

Rosa said after the hearing and a Jefferson County Commissioners vote favoring park expansion just days later that he and others expected Byrd would begin pushing for park expansion. The expansion was expected to include the property where Byrd now wants to put the shooting range, Rosa said.

Since October, the senator's office has "stonewalled" him when he came to them for updates on the situation, Rosa said.

"The senator didn't even have the courtesy to tell us this was in the works," Rosa said. "It's simply incompatible with the surrounding community."

A statement released by Byrd's office at about 5 p.m. Friday, said the funding Byrd added to "a senate appropriations bill is intended to be used to construct a U.S. Department of Treasury training facility, while helping to preserve historic lands in Jefferson County."

"I have been told by the National Park Service staff that such a training center could be built without endangering the historically sensitive aspects of the surrounding land, including the School House Ridge section," the statement quoted Byrd saying.

No one answered telephone calls to Byrd's office after the statement was released. Messages left on an answering machine Friday afternoon were not returned.

It is unknown how much of the 327 acres that would be turned over to the Treasury Department would be needed for the "in-service firearms training facility," as it is described in the senate bill.

The property is south of U.S. 340 and west of Bloomery Road and is part of more than 865 acres which includes the historic School House Ridge battlefield.

In 1862, Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson stood along the ridge surveying his 14,000 troops before his famous siege and capture of Harpers Ferry. The ensuing conflict resulted in the capture of 12,500 Union troops, the largest surrender of Northern soldiers in the conflict.

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