Canyon shooting range gains planners' OK; concerns remain
Union Tribune (2008-01-26) Anne Krueger
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More Info: Blackwater, Local Politics
, Covert Canyon
County has prohibited such training on site
By Anne Krueger
January 26, 2008
ALPINE – A proposed shooting range for the military and law enforcement in a secluded canyon near Alpine has received support from the local planning group, despite concerns about a county order prohibiting training on the property.
The Alpine planning group voted 7-3 on Thursday night in favor of the Covert Canyon training center. Landowner Marc Halcon wants to build shooting ranges, a climbing tower and an urban training structure on the 160-acre site, off Japatul Road.
The Alpine meeting contrasted with raucous planning group meetings in the backcountry community of Potrero, where Blackwater Worldwide wants to build a similar but much larger military and law enforcement training camp.
Halcon assured Alpine planning group members that he wouldn't train independent contractors, like those employed by Blackwater, on his property. Planning group member Chuck Taylor said he received letters from Army and Department of Homeland Security officials who urged approval of the range.
Taylor and others who support the project said Halcon has a right to develop his property as he wishes.
“I'm very strong for property rights,” Taylor said after the vote. “If the man has a place out in the middle of nowhere, if the government needs a training facility and he has a facility, then go for it.”
Brian Bonfiglio, a Blackwater vice president in charge of developing the Potrero property, said Blackwater's facility will offer much more than what Halcon is proposing for Covert Canyon.
“There's so much need in Southern California that even one facility like ours could not take care of all the law enforcement and the military in the region,” Bonfiglio said.
Planning groups are advisory bodies that make recommendations to county officials on land-use issues. Five members of Alpine's 15-member planning group were absent Thursday night, so the seven votes for Covert Canyon aren't recorded as an approval by a majority of the group.
Halcon, who owns the American Shooting Center in Kearny Mesa, said he began training on the property in September 2006 after he received approval from the Department of Defense. After media reports about the range in May, county officials issued an order to stop activity on the site because Halcon hadn't obtained the necessary county permits.
A letter from the county Department of Planning and Land Use to Halcon's consultants stated that staff members saw target shooting on the site during a visit in December. Halcon was told not to allow any training there until he secured his permits.
Halcon said he allowed Homeland Security Department officers to use his shooting range, but added that he wasn't violating the county order because he didn't charge a fee.
The letter was brought to the planning group's attention by Duncan Mc Fetridge
, who heads Save Our Forest and Ranchlands, an environmental group seeking to preserve the backcountry.
also told the group that Halcon extended a dirt airstrip on the property and illegally graded on 1.3 acres that are part of the Cleveland National Forest, which surrounds Halcon's property.
Halcon's consultant, Jeff Barfield, said Halcon was unaware that he had graded on U.S. Forest Service land and is correcting the error.
“We've been open and transparent in that regard,” Barfield said.
Halcon's only immediate neighbors are Robin and Clark Williams, who must cross Halcon's property to reach their house. Robin Williams said she hears shooting at all hours at Halcon's range.
“I would rather go to sleep with the news, not with shooting going on,” she said.
The three members of the planning group who voted against the project – George Barnett, Pat Cannon and Linda Richards – expressed concern that it's a bad fit for the rural town.
“This type of land use is not for Alpine,” Barnett said.
After the vote, Halcon said he was disappointed he couldn't gain approval from a majority of the planning group, but said he plans to move ahead with his project. He's required to submit additional information to the county planning department by April 15.
Anne Krueger: (619) 593-4962; firstname.lastname@example.org