A roadside pull-off near 7 Mile Haines Highway will be fenced off and cleaned up this spring in preparation for its transformation into a parking lot.
Larry Beck, an environmental protection specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, cited safety and pollution concerns for shutting down the “redneck rifle range,” an area historically beset by unauthorized dumping and shooting.
The site’s proximity to the Mount Ripinsky trailhead and Haines Highway also creates a safety hazard, Beck said.
“It’s not a range. It has never been recognized as anything. It’s just been a convenient place for people to go do uncontrolled recreational shooting,” Beck said.
In addition to cleaning up the old refrigerators, wood pallets, liquor bottles, and mattresses, BLM is contracting with Chilkat Environmental, LLC to perform testing of the soil, which may be contaminated with lead, copper or other residue associated with bullets. BLM owns the 15-acre parcel.
Elimination of any contaminated materials is required before BLM can transfer the land to the state, which intends to turn the area into a seven-car parking lot for the Mount Ripinksy trailhead. Jim Scholl, an environmental coordinator with the Department of Transportation, said the proposed parking lot and turnout are part of the Haines Highway improvement project.
Construction of the parking lot is still several years out, Scholl said.
Elijah Donat, principal environmental scientist for Chilkat Environmental, is working with BLM and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to develop and approve a work plan that will determine how and when Chilkat Environmental will conduct their site characterization, which determines the nature and extent of the area’s contamination.
Beck said depending on how much soil is contaminated, it could cost up to $1 million to excavate the soil and ship it to the Lower 48 for disposal.
Donat said he will most likely argue against building a fence, as it might drive wildlife into the nearby roadway. Beck, however, said he wants to prevent people from entering the area and making it worse when the government is paying money to clean it up. “It would be sad to have someone go in there and add more pollution to it and throw everything off,” he said.
The fence would likely surround one-half to three-quarters of an acre, Beck said.
The Haines Sportsman’s Association cleaned up the makeshift range at 7 Mile for several years, but vice president Charlie DeWitt said turning the area into a parking lot will only displace the unauthorized trash and shooting issues instead of solving them.
“(Users) are going to go somewhere else and do the same thing. Right now it seems like it’s fairly confined to that area. It’s just going to make it worse somewhere else, because people are still going to shoot. They’re not going to give that up,” DeWitt said.
DeWitt suspects users might move to the gravel pit at 25 Mile, which he said is “a lot less safe” because it lacks a backstop and is near a high-use recreation area.
Instead of shutting down the range, enforcing existing laws could curtail the dumping and littering problems, DeWitt said
Beck said he does not expect opposition to BLM’s plan to clean up and repurpose the site for wider public use.
“I don’t know who would want to push back against doing this. It’s currently making the public land unfit for use by the public except for that one purpose,” Beck said.
After approval of the work plan and completion of the site characterization, a summary report will be forwarded to DEC. In order to be designated “clean-up complete,” soil samples will have to be tested and shown to be below DEC’s action levels, Beck said. At that point, the land can be transferred to the state.