Parks department skips federal funding for shooting range to avoid additional on-site investigation

By | April 1, 2024

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks wanted to use federal funding to offset the cost of a $20 million shooting range outside Rapid City.

That is, until the department discovered that more time was needed to analyze the site’s significance to Native Americans. Artifacts had been found, according to the state’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office, which was familiar with the site.

At that point, the department withdrew its application for federal funding.

The project has already secured some funding, just not from the federal government. The ministry said it has received $5.1 million in pledges and donations to date. Ground was broken in early December 2023.

The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation sent a letter to the state parks department on Feb. 5, 2024, criticizing it for bypassing federal funding when learning of the need for a more complete historical analysis of a site.

“These actions appear to indicate a pattern of behavior in which the SDGFP is changing course on proposed projects after learning about historic properties located in the area of ​​the project’s potential impacts and the federal requirement to consider the impacts of the company on those historic buildings. properties,” wrote Christopher Koeppel, deputy director of the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The department withdrew its federal funding request in January.

The proposed shooting complex would be located on Elk Vale Road in Meade County. It is expected that the complex will house approximately 180 shooters at a time, providing free public use while bringing national competitions to the area. The design includes a shooting range on the south side for the general public and a shooting range on the north side for more experienced shooters, with “action bays” for tactical shooting exercises.

Through January, the funding plans include $2.5 million in federal money. The “Pittman Robertson” funds came from a federal excise tax on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment. Money from the tax is directed to conservation, restoration and hunter education programs in the US. To use the money, states must submit project plans to the federal government for approval.

GFP communications manager Nick Harrington answered questions for this story via email. He said department staff spent hours conducting an environmental impact assessment and a cultural resources study.

“GFP received a finding of no significant impact and was ultimately awarded a Pittman Robinson grant from the USFWS in early 2022,” he said in an email, referring to the $2.5 million planned for the project.

But in November 2023, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) flagged the proposed project, saying the location could impact nearby historic sites. This determination placed the project under the National Historic Preservation Act, which mandates thorough review of federally funded projects at historic sites.

A separate study conducted by the state’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office identified seven sites near the proposed site that the agency believes are eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

That resulted in the need for a more thorough investigation, the federal letter said. Harrington said that because the federal government changed research requirements after greenlighting the project, the department chose not to pursue the $2.5 million.

“GFP decided to forego the Pittman Robinson financing and proceed with the complex project without further delay,” Harrington said.

Garrie Kills A Hundred, the tribal historic preservation officer who helped with the site investigation, said the issue started with the USFWS, which did not consult with the tribes when conducting the initial assessment of the site.

“That’s where things first started going south,” he said.

Kills A Hundred said he was later informed that the state had begun developing the site, which resulted in “the bulldozing of the sites we found.” He is concerned that all identified historical sites and artifacts within them have been destroyed.

The proposal for the shooting range has provoked mixed reactions from local residents. Concerns have been raised about the potential for noise pollution, increased traffic, impacts on wildlife and the environment, and disruption to the way of life of rural residents.

Additionally, some lawmakers have expressed concerns about the high price tag to complete the project. The $20 million price for the 400-acre shooting range is a significant increase from 2020 estimates of $11 million.

The shooting complex is expected to be completed in the autumn of 2025.

Harrington said the financing to build the complex will be a combination of private and public dollars. He and the governor’s office did not answer questions about where the public dollars would come from, given federal funding issues.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Parks department skips federal funding for shooting range

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