Range boosters say foes off target

By Alex MacLean / The Union Democrat

The fate of a shooting range located off La Grange Road near Don Pedro Road is set to be decided next month by the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors.

About 200 people attended Wednesday night's Tuolumne County Planning Commission meeting for a public hearing on a request by the range's owners, who are seeking the necessary permits from the county to continue operating the business. Most who attended were in favor of allowing the range to continue, but a few who live close to it expressed concerns over safety and noise.

The commission unanimously passed the request with more than 50 conditions that must be addressed by the owners to protect stream beds, prevent metal contamination and ensure safety.

However, the final approval will need to come from the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 7.

John and Tami Popke own and operate Weapons Training School on part of a 250-acre property owned by Joan and Tim Diestel. The school offers SWAT, sniper and long-range training as well as a shooting program designed for women.

The range is about 5 acres and has nine shooting stations, an obstacle course, rappelling tower, shed, classroom, portable toilets and a gravel parking area.

John Popke said that he and his wife have spent about $50,000 over the past five years to construct the range and develop the school, which is a licensed business.

Popke, a former SWAT-team member, claimed the range was merely "out of compliance" with the county's land-use codes and took issue with a previous newspaper article that said the range was operating illegally.

"I have an 87-year-old mother that's looking at my law enforcement picture on the wall and she thought I just became a criminal," he said.

It all stems from a complaint filed by a neighbor with the county that led to a 2012 inspection which found the range in violation of county land-use codes. Popke said he thought that he was in compliance with all of the regulations prior to building the range, but was unaware of the county's requirements.

The request for the permit, if approved by the Board of Supervisors, would also amend a management plan for the Diestels' land conservation contract under the Williamson Act, which provides tax breaks to property owners who use the land for agriculture and open space. The plan currently does not allow for a shooting range business to operate on the property.

More than a dozen people expressed support for the Popkes' range, with many saying they had taken classes at the school and benefitted from the safety training.

For the complete story, see the Sept. 4, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.

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The Union Democrat
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