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Sennett gun range meeting

State Sen. John DeFrancisco addresses a crowd of over 70 at the Auburn Correctional Training Center on Thursday about a proposed gun range in the area.

SENNETT | Thomas Corcoran got yelled at a lot Thursday night.

Over 70 Sennett and area residents gathered at the Auburn Correctional Training Center to make their voices heard about an open shooting range the state plans to construct near a residential area behind the training center.

By the end of it all, Corcoran, assistant commissioner for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, said that the project is now temporarily on hold.

"I'm angry," said longtime Sennett resident Jan Graham. "I don't want it in our area. It will be noisy. It will destroy property values. I understand that the corrections facility needs to have their people trained, but this is not the place to do it."

The construction of the facility has been delayed until all feedback is gathered from residents, though state Sen. John DeFranscisco pointed out that Corcoran could have let the project proceed without a public hearing.

"We're trying to be good neighbors," Corcoran said. "We're trying to discuss this."

Residents heard about the proposed shooting range, which would provide mandated firearms training for the Auburn Correctional Facility, in August 2014, according to the Town Supervisor Tom Gray.

In March 2015, residents signed petitions against the range and delivered them to DeFrancisco. He did not immediately pass along those petitions, as he had not heard of any new developments on the project.

"Why I didn't send it earlier?" DeFrancisco asked. "This was talked about in 2014, and it seemed like something that wasn't going to happen. As soon as I found out that they were talking again, I set up this meeting with (state Assemblyman) Bob Oaks."

Within the first several minutes of the meeting, Corcoran informed residents that the state's zoning regulations do not apply for state lands. There was an uproar from the crowd.

DeFrancisco asked residents to hold their questions and comments to the end of the presentation.

Here is what residents learned.

The open firing range has been approved by the state DOCCS and is expected to cost $4.7 million. Funds have been used to design the range, and the production schedule, which is now postponed, had originally set the completion date for late summer 2016.

The site for the range is about 3.7 miles from Auburn Correctional Facility, and would take up about 3.5 acres of 33 acres already owned by the state.

The design includes an overhead concrete baffle system, which is padded with sound-absorbing rubber. No figures were provided on the decibel range residents might expect for the practice shooting.

The range is also designed with a steel bullet containment system to trap stray bullets. There would be 16 shooting lanes, and the range would be open likely Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lieutenant Mark Valentino of Auburn Correctional Facility said 600 security staff need to be trained from April 1 to Sept. 30 each year, which is when they expect the range to be used. Training usually takes place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., though they are usually finished around 12 p.m., Valentino said. 

Residents voiced their upset over training occurring during the summer months when their children will be home from school.

Staff is currently trained at a range located on Robinson Road in Throop where the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office trains. Valentino said that his officers sometimes get pushed out of the range, making it difficult for them to qualify their officers.

"The sheriff is very good to us, but the fact is he still has to qualify all these other officers," Valentino said.

Residents were told that that a Phase 1 environmental assessment has been completed, but a copy of the assessment was not made available Thursday.

There were also concerns about noise and safety. Corcoran said there are no noise ordinances for the Town of Sennett or Cayuga County, and that any noise will be in compliance with state levels. 

Corcoran shared a video of an open shooting range in Fishkill to give residents an idea of what the noise levels would be at various distances. The video was a single wide shot of the range with audible firing in the background. 

"This video is useless," said an audience member. "This video is not helpful to your cause."

Corcoran did not finish the video.

Residents asked about making the range a closed facility. Corcoran said that would double or triple the costs.

Residents asked if DOCCS had looked into other sites for the range. 

"The bottom line is we looked at what we have," Corcoran said. "We have 33 acres here that's not utilized."

A resident asked about the town's comprehensive plan, which includes a park across the street from the training facility. Corcoran said he had not been aware of that plan until recently.

"I felt that they didn't have enough information," said Graham. She and her husband, Frank, live about a mile from the training center and have lived there since 1970. "They did not have the decibel information. They didn't tell us why there didn't pursue other areas to put this gun range. I think they took the easy way out. They haven't considered the residents."

DeFrancisco said he would collect residents' feedback through Dec. 17 and compile it with Oaks. They would then present their findings to the Department of Corrections.

"I think it was helpful in several respects," DeFrancisco said about the meeting. "Most of the residents had no idea what was going on. It provided more details to the residents. It gave residents the opportunity to ask questions and indicate more information is needed and alternatives should be pursued."

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Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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