Friday, May 20, 2011

Sioux Center City Council Disillusionment: Sandy Hollow Gun Range Approved

I wasn't surprised to hear that the Sioux Center City Council voted unanimously to lease Sandy Hollow for development as a gun range. They are only some of a larger group of city leaders, DNR employees, project promoters, and zoning committee members who have chosen to lead in this manner.

For the past several weeks, when presented with facts politely, honestly, and urgently, leaders have demonstrated no concern in response to the overwhelming evidence indicating that creating a gun range on this site is dangerous and detrimental for the land and water, the wildlife, the surrounding neighborhood, and people who currently enjoy Sandy Hollow for various activities.

They have demonstrated no concerns about approving this floodplain to be the dumping ground for 30 tons of lead shot each year, and no concern about the high potential to contaminate ground water, drinking water wells downstream, and farmland with lead.

They have demonstrated no concern in response to the sound tests -- numbers indicating that the impulse noise generated from a million shots fired every year, year round, during prime leisure hours will be as loud in the surrounding neighbors’ yards as a semi truck passing while you stand at the edge of the highway, or as loud as a jackhammer from 50 feet away. This level of noise is not only noticeable or irritating, it interferes with normal conversation and contributes to health problems, including an increased chance of heart disease.

They have demonstrated no concern that Ben Berka, the DNR employee who designed the course, is clearly not the “expert” as claimed: he didn’t know the name of the waterway running through Sandy Hollow (it’s the west branch of the Floyd River), he didn’t know that he shouldn’t design a course where lead shot is being discharged across water, he believes that a buffer of prairie grass and vegetation will control sound (when it is the correct season and the plants are mature) although the US Department of Transportation has several resources available online illustrating how this method would be ineffective in this case, and his course design doesn’t follow expert guidelines set forth by the EPA and the NRA regarding gun ranges.
  • Sandy Hollow is too small to function as a gun range: it should be ½ mile from residences, but at Sandy Hollow there are around 25 residences and a campground within half a mile. It also seems wise to design a safety zone between a firing station and the edge of the property – At Sandy Hollow, guns will be discharged less than 40 feet from the property edge, putting pedestrians and cyclists on the Sandy Hollow driveway within lethal range of gunfire if an accident were to happen.
  • A gun range should not be located over an aquifer (which Sandy Hollow is) due to high risk of groundwater contamination. Sandy soil over a high water table poses the greatest risk for lead entering the water supply. 
  • A gun range should not be located in a valley (that’s why they named it sandy “hollow”) because controlling sound will be much more difficult.
They have demonstrated no concern for the safety of residents who drink from wells downstream (or the residents of Orange City, whose city wells are downstream), no concern for the safety of campers with children adjacent to multiple unfenced shooting areas, and no concern for the safety of area wildlife exposed to lead and noise, or pedestrians who will be exposed to noise levels high enough to cause hearing loss.

They have demonstrated no concern that approximately 400 people, not “only” the neighboring 70, signed a petition objecting to the development of a shooting range and sporting complex at this site.

No rationale has been given to counter the facts: a neighborhood will be destroyed, income and property value will be significantly reduced for the families who have lived in this area for decades, a public park enjoyed year-round by the community will now be enjoyable only for a special interest group, tons of lead will compromise the environment, and an ecosystem will be disrupted. This is all justified in the name of generating income and replacing the entertainment options already enjoyed at Sandy Hollow with firearms -- "progress."

City officials have told the press and told my family directly that their public commitment to protecting rights, preserving community, and promoting wellness extends only as far as the city limits. You are a rural neighborhood. You are only 70 people. You do not belong to us; You are nobody's responsibility. We will make decisions that effect you, decisions that harm you, but it is not our job to make decisions to protect you. And when the city council voted this week, they too confirmed this sentiment.

I am sickened by the mindset of people who selfishly remark "but I would like to shoot there." Would you like to live there? Would you like to drink the water? No matter how much you enjoy recreational shooting (my husband does), who are you willing to dismiss for your entertainment? Are you willing to say, to my face, "My entertainment options are more important than your father's ability to rent out his apartments and pay his mortgage. My leisure activities are more important than the health and relaxation of an entire neighborhood. My fun is more important than your safety. I am more important than you."

Who is listening? Who is leading? I am broken by the lack of Christian leadership in a town that holds a place very dear in my heart, a town where I believed that people did good to their neighbors. I grew up going to church with some of these city leaders. They were members of the church council; they were role models. I wait for them to show me their thirst for justice, for informed decisions, their commitment to speak up for people without power. Instead I hear that they didn't foresee any objections to the project because they had only recieved positive feedback, and that it was easier to plan this project when nobody knew about it in order to object.

I do not trust the heart of a leader who does not take my concerns seriously. I do not trust the wisdom of a leader who dismisses expert opinion. I do not trust the vision of a leader who explores only one side of a situation. I do not trust the judgment of a leader who responds to only the loudest voice. I do not trust the motivation of a leader who harms others for their own benefit, financial or otherwise.

Although I am no longer surprised by the city council’s callousness, I remain disillusioned by their leadership without love. The data alone is powerful enough to carry this case, but this isn’t just about numbers – shots per day, decibels, names signed for or against, income gained or lost, parts per million lead contamination – this is about humans. A group of people asked the city council, “Do we matter?” And they said, unanimously, “No.”


  1. There are risks in all areas of life. And yes, "progress" sometimes causes pain, and it costs something. As a pregnant women, I'm well aware that that the progress of bringing another child into the world will involve risk and pain, and it will cost something. There's road construction near my house. I'm sure there's an element of risk there to the workers working with construction equipment. The progress will cost the city money, and the detour I am sure is causing excess noise to a residential community, for a short time.

    There is a tiny element of truth in most lies, and I think this idea that "a little risk is OK, a little pain is OK, progress always has it's costs" is another of the ideas causing people to support the gun club. However, they are failing to realize the bigger truth that whenever possible, you minimize the risks, and they are borne by consenting adults, hopefully for a short time in order to have a long-term gain. You follow the recommendations of expert organizations: I take my vitamins and eat healthy and get prenatal care, and I see the construction workers using safety equipment and directing traffic away from workers. People undertake the risk of having children, building roads, etc. because the situation of never having children, or continuing to use an old and overcrowded road system would be, in the long run, are actually more dangerous and risky than the temporary risks of pregnancy and road construction.

    These situations are entirely different than the situation of the gun range, where the City Council (and others) are asking someone else to bear long-term or permanent risks, costs, and pain of "progress" that isn't essential at all, and meanwhile ignoring the safety recommendations of experts.

    John Byl, president of NIOSC, the gun club planning to build the range, said "Not all progress is good for all people." (quote in Northwest Iowa Review). I disagree with that statement as applied to the gun range, and I think your post excellently demonstrates that the thinking behind approving this range just isn't right, and it is a shame to those that approved it. I think you should send the city council members a link to this post.

  2. Actually John Byl's exact quote was:

    All progress is not good for everyone in the community.

  3. i'm sorry to hear this, heather! as an EPA employee, i totally understand the water concern here. heart-breaking! wish there were something i could do...

  4. Sorry to hear the results. :-( Too often in America we go for "progress" without stopping to consider the cost.


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