published Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Plans for downtown Chattanooga police firing range abandoned

SWAT team members shoot at targets at the police firing range off Moccasin Bend Road. City and county officials are no longer moving ahead with plans to construct a $5 million indoor shooting range on East 12th Street and will continue to use the Moccasin Bend facility.
SWAT team members shoot at targets at the police firing range off Moccasin Bend Road. City and county officials are no longer moving ahead with plans to construct a $5 million indoor shooting range on East 12th Street and will continue to use the Moccasin Bend facility.
Photo by Staff File Photo.

TIMELINE

• 1979: Local law enforcement start using the site at Moccasin Bend as a firing range.

• 1998: Friends of Moccasin Bend begin campaign to turn the bend into a national park, led by U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp.

• 2001: Wamp introduces legislation to create a 911-acre national park on Moccasin Bend.

• 2002: City and county law enforcement consider moving the firing range to the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant in what is now Enterprise South.

• 2003: President George W. Bush signs legislation authorizing Moccasin Bend to become part of the national park system. About 755 acres are designated as the Moccasin Bend National Archeological District.

• 2007: Wamp names the summer of 2008 as the target date to move the firing range.

• 2009: Officials make plans to extend the Riverwalk through the firing range once police move out, and Wamp secures $7.2 million in federal money for the national park.

• January 2013: County and city officials announce plans for the new indoor firing range on 12th Street downtown.

• April 2013: Officials break ground on the new indoor firing range.

• November 2013: The Hamilton County Commission pushes back a vote on whether to earmark an extra $500,000 to the indoor firing range after projected costs are higher than expected.

• 2014: City and county officials abandon plans for the indoor firing range and instead say the money will be used to repair the Moccasin Bend firing range.

Source: Times Free Press archives

Poll
Should the firing range at Moccasin Bend be closed?
  • photo
    The empty lot sits on 12th Street where plans have been abandoned for a firing range for the Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

City and county officials have abandoned plans to move the local law enforcement firing range from its decades-old home on Moccasin Bend to a proposed $5 million indoor shooting range on East 12th Street.

The decision abruptly ends more than 15 years of political wrangling, federal legislation and grassroots efforts to close the firing range and include the land in the neighboring Moccasin Bend National Archeological District, a 755-acre national park.

Instead, both the Chattanooga Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office will continue to use the 33-acre firing range on Moccasin Bend Road, and some of the money that was earmarked for the new indoor range will instead be used to upgrade and repair the existing range.

Despite spending $250,000 to hire an architect to design the new indoor range, prepare the land and demolish existing buildings, city and county officials now believe the proposed indoor range would have been inadequate for law enforcement training, said city Chief of Staff Travis McDonough.

"We've heard overwhelmingly from CPD employees," McDonough said, "and there is a strong preference to stay where they are."

City leaders downplayed the impact on the national park and said the proposed range was expensive and had fewer capabilities than the Moccasin Bend range. The proposed range would fit 25 shooters, while the current range fits 42 shooters.

"We felt like we'd end up throwing good money after bad unless we did it right the first time," said Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond.

And while law enforcement is happy to stay put and city and county officials are happy to save most of the money planned for the new range, the decision to stay at Moccasin Bend and improve the facility pulls the rug out from local supporters who have worked for years to restore and preserve the national park.

Since the early 2000s, the city and county had promised the National Park Service that they could have the 33-acre plot of land that the firing range sits on, which wasn't a part of the original 755 acres. Last year, local officials even agreed to give the land to them once the new range was built.

Proponents of the move made plans to extend the Tennessee Riverwalk through the area, and tossed around the idea of building a visitors center on the site.

They argued the firing range was dangerous for future parkgoers and kept visitors from experiencing the full historical significance of the park that includes a Native American grave site and was part of the Trail of Tears.

"That firing range is right on the riverfront, and that's why that property is so important to the future visitor experience of that entire area," said Brad Bennett, superintendent of the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park.

Bennett said the park can generate economic activity in Chattanooga -- almost a million people visit the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park every year, which generates about $55 million in economic impact and creates 771 private-sector jobs, he said.

This October, Friends of Moccasin Bend expects to get the federal money needed to complete the management plans to build an interpretive center, museum and visitors center, said Kay Parish, the interim executive director. Funding for the plan was pulled in 2008.

The long-term goal is to then connect the planned Tennessee Riverwalk expansion from the North Shore to the park and expand down the Moccasin Bend peninsula, she said.

The firing range sits right in the middle of all those plans.

But local law enforcement say the firing range's current location is hard to beat. The sprawling and fairly remote site gives the agencies a place to practice open-field searches, fire long-range weapons and conduct explosives training, police Chief Fred Fletcher said.

And before the city and county could give the site to the National Park Service, the land would have needed to be cleaned up, a complex endeavor estimated to cost around $1.2 million. That would have bumped costs for the new range and land remediation up over $6 million.

In early 2013, the city and county had each pledged $1.5 million toward the range and were counting on a $1 million federal grant to fund the project as well. But neither government agreed to commit extra money when costs ballooned by another $1 million late last year. The rising cost was a critical factor in the decision to scrap the project, McDonough said.

"Instead of building in many respects a less desirable facility at a much greater expense, we continually inched toward the conclusion we reached in the last day or so," McDonough said.

Still, Bennett is hopeful that the park service may one day take control of the firing range land.

"The overall goal is to make that an asset for the whole community," he said. "It is a small investment if you think about the return on investment."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at 423-757-6559 or jlukachick@timesfreepress.com.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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