Miwok tribe picks smaller El Dorado shooting range amid neighbors’ concerns


Responding to a barrage of protest from neighbors and local residents, the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, owners of Red Hawk Casino, have scaled back plans to put in a public 29-lane outdoor gun range south of Highway 50 and instead develop a small gun range “open only to tribal members and their guests.”

The decision to go smaller was met with relief by opponents, some of whom live 100 yards from the proposed range on Shingle Springs Drive. But they remain concerned about sound and safety issues, said community organizer Damon Tribble, a web designer whose daughter attends second grade at a school 1,000 yards from the shooting range.

“We appreciate this gesture by the tribe, and we think this is a step in the right direction,” Tribble said, noting the tribe, as a sovereign nation, can do what it wants on the 2 acres of tribal trust land it owns – and El Dorado County government and courts can’t do anything about it. But Tribble said he and other neighbors wish the tribe would relocate the gun range to a place “that’s a lot more wild and remote.”

Tribble and his core group of 15 activists have launched a website, a Facebook page and YouTube videos featuring maps, sound studies and guns being fired at the range site.

The protesters, who have collected more than 1,100 online signatures, said the sound study they commissioned shows the noise level from the gun range at Gary Vreman’s house within 200 yards of the range “is about 100 decibels, 30 decibels over the county noise limit,” Tribble said. “It’s equivalent to a rock concert … the closest neighbors would have to wear earplugs during firing times.”

The smaller range, which is now open and referred to by the tribe as a “test range,” is a bigger safety concern to the residents because it is closer to the residents, and shooters’ weapons are pointed directly at the El Dorado County Trail on the old Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, said Vreman, who commissioned the sound study.

“So far they’ve been shooting mostly handguns,” Vreman said. “It’s as loud as jackhammer. This is completely unregulated; you could have anybody down there. My concerns haven’t been quelled. It’s still pointing directly at the residents.”

Both sides agree there are many gun owners in rural El Dorado County and that most of the tribe’s neighbors, including Vreman, own guns. Tribal Administrator Ernest Vargas said the tribe originally decided to build the 29-lane range after “hearing how much El Dorado County needs a new gun range, and we were in the position to fulfill that need.”

Tribble said his group is not anti-gun.

“We used to be Stop The Gun Range, but we found this was a real conversation killer,” Tribble said. “We’re not against guns; we’re just against the gun range,” which he said would be within 1,000 yards of two public elementary schools and a church, and within 100 yards of busy Highway 50 and dozens of private residences directly in the line of fire.

The tribe has posted a detailed safety plan online. It is now testing six or seven lanes for handguns and rifles, said spokeswoman Kim Stoll. The range is not designed to accommodate trap shooting.

The range is open 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. It is closed Sunday. Shooting is not allowed during school or worship hours, the tribe said in a statement.

Though confident that safety and sound issues would have been mitigated, “the greater goal is to be a good neighbor,” said tribal Chairman Nicholas Fonseca. “The tribe very much values its relationship with our neighbors.”

Fonseca said the smaller gun range meets the needs of the tribe’s original vision.

“This shows some good faith, which is encouraging,” Tribble said. “Whether we’re talking about 29 or five guns, the closest residents still have a great concern about the proximity, the noise level and the vagueness of (the definition of) ‘guests.’”

The tribe has roughly 400 members, and Tribble said the range could generate a lot of traffic.

Vargas acknowledged the smaller site “might be a little closer to neighbors,” but, he said, “we feel it’s the safest spot and also helps with the sound. If the tribe had another piece of property that was more remote we’d be happy to do that.”

The neighbors plan to meet again with the tribe “until everyone feels they’ve reached a positive conclusion,” Tribble said.

“We welcome those meetings,” Stoll said. “The tribal members just want a safe place that they can shoot.”

Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072. Bee researcher Pete Basofin contributed to this report.