The long awaited Camden County Recreational Shooting Complex was discussed in Thursday’s (April 20, 2017) work session meeting with the Camden County Commissioners. Before Thursday’s meeting, there were two attempts to discuss the gun range in November of 2016, but those meetings were canceled citing that the newly elected county commissioners wanted a chance to review the noise study which was completed in May of 2016.
Since May 2014, Camden County residents have been without firing range due to a Superior Court ruling in favor of the County Commission’s voiding of a special use permit issued to Oakwell Armory. The permit was voided due to complaints about the noise of automatic gunfire, and alleged explosions – Oakwell Armory had to shut down their range operations. The original discussion of the range was expected to be available to military base personnel, law enforcement, and the general public. The proposed range location is well outside of any city within the county as to not violate any noise ordinances. The gun range’s location is off Highway 110 near the Camden County landfill.
The goal of the work session was to review the conclusions of a noise study, review projected cost, and potential revenue from the gun range. Currently, the county has a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service coordinated through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources amounting to $750,000 to be used to build the proposed gun range. The grant is to be used by September 30, 2018; however, it has been a four-year discussion about how the project should proceed. The County Commission has agreed to match the grant with $250,000. In addtion, a $25,000 National Rifle Association grant will be used as well- all grants totaling over $1million in investment. Currently, there were no contributions from in-kind donations presented; however, Commissioner Gary Blount proposed an additional line item of $125,000 to help offset initial costs.
Captain Kevin Chaney, from the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, submitted a business plan to the County Commissioners at the work session which determined a projection of yearly visitor usage to be over 24,000 visitors a year for the proposed gun range. This projection was based on numbers and demographics compared to gun range Charles Elliot Wildlife Center (CEWC) located in Jasper County, GA, which had half that amount and Oakwell Armory in Kingsland which had over 12,000 visitors. Captain Chaney stated that Camden’s visitor rate should be higher than CEWC’s since it is located between two metro areas (Jacksonville, FL and Brunswick).
The membership fee projections are expected to yield approximately $218,000 in total yearly revenue. Some proposed memberships would include a single membership of $200 a year, a possible couple’s membership fee of $250 a year for a couple, a family membership is expected to be $275, and a daily fee if one does not become a member is expected to be $15. Fees are subject to change. The family membership and regular daily fee have yet to be determined. According to County Commissioner Gary Blount, the accounting procedures for the gun range will work similar to enterprise funds. Captain Chaney’s stated that only law enforcement and the public use the range. Sheriff Proctor confirmed that military usage will not be permitted at the range due to an incident involving a noise disruption with a .50 caliber weapon being fired at night by the Coast Gaurd. The range will be open seven days a week where four days are proposed for public usage while three days will be for law enforcement, but there is not set calendar at this time. Furthermore, there will be two uniformed officers on site at all times during hours of operation.
The gun range is expected to have pistol shooting bays and two long-range rifle ranges of 100 and 200 yards, which is competitive with nearby ranges in Yulee, Jacksonville, and Brunswick. Captain Chaney further stated that 30-foot berms, which protect from damage and ricochets, will be built to create a more safe environment. In general, the recommended berm height is 26 feet, but Captain Chaney stated that 30-feet berms would ensure a more safe environment for visitors and help reduce noise.
Captain Chaney stated that the highest decibel (dBA) recorded in the noise study was from the long range rifle range with a decibel level of about 65.4, which he said was very low for that type of range. According to the noise study, “annoyance response to levels above 65 dBA would be expected” for the size and scope of the gun range. Most of the sound levels from the study were below 65.4 dBA and the study concluded that the overall “calculations around the range look good due to the lack of residents in the area.”
Currently, the noise level from the gun range has been minimal from law enforcement and participants of the Citizens Academy. However, the only noise complaint from residents who live near the area was due to the Coast Guard’s firing of a .50 caliber weapon at night. The operations of the gun range are expected to be from 7AM to sunset.
According to Captain Chaney, weapons of less that a .50 caliber will be allowed at the range. Also, machine guns will be allowed, but they cannot be .50 caliber and safety of the firearm will be heavily monitored by onsite officers. All the commissioners were in agreement that the sound and noise issues have been resolved and the project should move forward to completion.
The gun range property belongs to the county, but the range will be operated by the Sheriff’s office. Once an intergovernmental agreement is signed and implemented between the Sheriff’s Office and the County Commission, the timeline for completion of the gun range could be between 6 to 9 months. Mr. Howard Davis, the owner of Oakwell Armory, whose gun range permit was revoked, stated that “I am glad to hear their [County Commissioners] attitude has changed toward the range, so if they will sign the intergovernmental agreement, I will be very happy and the project can proceed.”
The Sheriff’s office affirms that the mission of the gun range will be to provide a safe shooting environment for citizens and law enforcement personnel. The gun range has the potential to attract competitions and visitors from the surrounding area generating local revenue for the county. Several citizens in the audience spoke in favor of the gun range and stated how they would rather spend their money locally while educating their family on firearms and hunting safety. The citizens further explained how they have to travel to shoot their long range firearms to places such as Waycross. Members of the audience thanked the commission for their work and wanted to write a check for membership. No citizen spoke against the proposed gun range.
To view entire gun range noise study, click here.