published Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Moccasin Bend firing range bullets complicate land sale to National Park Service from Chattanooga, County

SWAT team members shoot at targets during firing practice at the police firing range off Moccasin Bend Road.
SWAT team members shoot at targets during firing practice at the police firing range off Moccasin Bend Road.
Photo by Associated Press.

Thousands of bullets pumped into the banks of a 33-acre parcel of land on Moccasin Bend are complicating the property's long-planned transfer from Chattanooga and Hamilton County to the national park system.

The city- and county-owned land, which for decades has been home to a law enforcement firing range, long has been promised to the U.S. National Park Service to fill out the Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District, which encompasses the shooting range.

But during an agenda meeting last week, county leaders were blindsided by the news that they were responsible for all environmental cleanup before the Park Service would accept the land.

City and county officials say they still want to give the land to the park at some point -- though they don't yet have a plan or timeline for cleanup.

"I don't know what the intent of the county and the city is now," said Cathy Cook, superintendent of the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park. "Certainly the National Park Service is still very interested in that land. We have been since before the area was designated as part of the National Park district in 2003."

Cook said she and her predecessor had informed local officials about the cleanup requirements, and she didn't know why the leaders were taken by surprise.

Regardless of how the city and county decide to part with the land, the firing range needs to be moved from the property as soon as possible, officials say.

The surrounding park soon will be filled with hikers and bikers, and state and federal agencies are tightening regulations on outdoor firing ranges because of related environmental hazards.

On Wednesday, Hamilton County commissioners unanimously approved the construction of a new indoor firing range on the old farmer's market site behind the new police substation at 11th Street in downtown Chattanooga.

But before the vote, the county removed all reference to the Moccasin Bend property.

"We want to move this project forward so we can address the [Moccasin Bend] property," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said.

Chattanooga's City Council is scheduled to vote on the new $4 million shooting facility next week. Matt Lee, special assistant to Mayor Ron Littlefield, said that if the council approves the agreement, he hopes to see ground broken on the new facility by March.

The county and the city each have pledged $1.5 million for construction. An additional $1.05 million will be drawn from federal grants.

Lee said both the city and the county ultimately will be responsible for the Moccasin Bend property's cleanup "either now or 10 years from now."

The value of the lead reclaimed in the cleanup process would help cover the cleanup cost, Lee said.

"There will be 20 to 30 years worth of lead in the ground, and the lead itself will be worth a considerable amount of money," he said. "But it will be an extensive project."

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