An official policy for the City of Oneonta firearms range on East Street in the town of Oneonta is being drawn up by Oneonta Police Chief Douglas Brenner, after a town of Oneonta resident raised concerns about its use.
Brenner on Aug. 6 said the policy will be enacted the following week and those who want to view it can do so by filing a Freedom of Information Law request. William Starna, the resident, wrote Brenner on July 22, noting there wasn't a policy in place regarding the city's use of the firearms range.
Starna's letter, which he shared with The Daily Star, mentioned concerns about five straight days of gunfire the week prior, people who were not members of the OPD using the range, large explosions coming from the firing range and the creation of a “loud, disturbing, stress-inducing, and dangerous environment to the many families living near the firing range."
Starna said he first raised the issue of frequent gunfire from the range in late summer 2016 because there had been gunfire until nearly 11 p.m. one evening. He said he was told by former OPD Chief Dennis Nayor that the firing range was open to all city employees, but that late night gunfire would be halted.
“I live in the vicinity of the firing range and have been listening to the shooting and carrying on there for three-plus years,” he said. “It's been escalated, and there seems to be no end to who can use the range."
The firearms range is located near Oneonta's Lower Reservoir, which is one of the sources of the city's drinking water. Starna's letter detailed potential water quality and environmental issues that could occur from “accumulation of lead and copper-sheathed lead bullets, lead shotgun slugs and undoubtedly toxic lead dust in these hillsides and from where weapons are fired,” according to the letter.
An Aug. 3 letter from Brenner to Starna addressed some of these concerns. Those authorized to use the range are OPD personnel and "members of their immediate household" supervised by OPD personnel, certain City of Oneonta Fire Department members, personnel from federal, local and state law enforcement agencies and retired law enforcement personnel, according to the Aug. 3 letter. Operating hours were designated as "after 9 a.m. and until one-half hour before sunset."
Brenner said the official policy will include the points mentioned in the letter. Brenner's letter did not address the potential contamination of nearby water bodies.
Brenner said household members are allowed to use the range because weapons used by OPD personnel are stored in their homes so those who are exposed to them should be trained in firearm operation and safety. Also, living with a police officer could result in potential threats to the entire household given the nature of police work, so household members should be trained, he said. Training at the range occurs twice a year but authorized range users can practice there whenever they want during designated hours, according to Brenner.
"The officers, they want to train ... they want to be more proficient than the city can afford, so they go on their time off to limit their expense," Brenner said.
Giving more prior notice to residents when after dark training occurs is something Brenner said he admits OPD can do better and is being looked at as part of the policy.
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig said Brenner is authorized to set policies for the range's use by OPD, but any complaints are reviewed by others, including elected officials. The issue of possible lead and other contamination of nearby water bodies will be explored in more detail, he said.
Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.