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Court decision renews debate over skeet range at Southaven County Park

People fire at the Suffolk County Trap and

People fire at the Suffolk County Trap and Skeet on Gerard Road in Yaphank. Credit: James Carbone

A state justice's decision upholding Brookhaven Town's noise ordinance has renewed debate over the fate of a shooting range that operates on the grounds of Southaven County Park in Yaphank.

Neighbors of the skeet and trap range and some Brookhaven Town officials have called on Suffolk County officials to close the facility following years of complaints about noise and possible environmental hazards from decades of lead shot littering the property.

“It created a lot of noise in the neighborhood," Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said in an interview. "This is a time when the county should think about the future of this. ... We would rather not have it there because we don’t believe it could comply with our noise ordinance.”

The town's contentions received a boost last fall when acting state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farneti ruled in Brookhaven's favor in a lawsuit filed in 2007 by Hunter Sports Shooting Grounds. The company pays the county annual fees, sometimes more than $40,000, to operate the facility on Gerard Road.

In his Nov. 21 decision, Farneti wrote that Hunter Sports must have known when it began operating the range in 2006 that the town code limited noise to 65 decibels. Farneti rejected arguments by Hunter Sports' lawyers that the town law was unconstitutional and that the range should be allowed to ignore the ordinance because shooting ranges had operated at the park since before the law was enacted in 1987.

Andrew L. Crabtree, Hunter Sports' Melville lawyer, said he was "disappointed" by the decision and has filed an appeal.

The shooting range has been controversial since it reopened in 2006 after a previous operator shut down five years earlier. Some neighbors said then they bought houses nearby after being assured the range was closed for good.

Local officials and residents in 2011 called on the county to close the range. Facing opposition from range users and gun rights activists, a county legislature committee in 2013 defeated a resolution to shutter the facility.

John Matthews, who lives close to the range, said gunshots from the facility can be heard almost daily, and the noise is worse on weekends. He has pleaded with county officials to close it.

“There’ll be a gunshot every two to three seconds," he said. “There needs to be a legislative action to close this thing.”

Suffolk lawmakers, however, have sought to help Hunter Sports comply with the noise ordinance and clean up the site.

Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said efforts to add walls to mitigate noise have been stymied because of restrictions on construction in the pine barrens. Addressing environmental issues would require a “substantial investment in order to clean that area up,” he said.

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