Opposition mounts against proposed Hopatcong police gun range

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  • Roomful of protesters hold signs against police shooting range at Hopatcong Town Council meeting Photos by Amy Shewchuk

  • Eight-year-old A.J. Caroleo

  • Hopatcong Town Council says it understands this is a 'sensitive topic'


— Last Wednesday night’s Hopatcong Town Council meeting was filled to standing room capacity with concerned citizens opposing a police training shooting range slated to be constructed next to One Step Closer Animal Rescue’s (O.S.C.A.R.) new shelter. The newly renovated 40-kennel shelter is located on the Byram/Hopatcong border and is only a quarter of a mile from the proposed range.

Since hearing of the potential of a firing range near her property in December, Cassie Prisco, O.S.C.A.R. founder and director, fears that having this facility so close to the shelter would cause extreme stress, fear and potential danger to the animals it houses.

“If I had known that this was even a remote possibility we would have never purchased the property in the first place,” Prisco said.

Prisco began the public comment portion with a list of expectations from the town before the firing range is used, including: a full Planning Board review and following all its recommendations; explanation of how the site will be constructed and what materials will be used; knowledge of the types of tactical training will take place there and whether it would include sniper training; what remediation measures will be taken regarding Hopatcong’s noise ordinances; and an environmental impact study and report.

Prisco presented council members with a noise level chart published by New England Hearing Instruments which showed that the largest round of ammunition that would be used at the firing range was around 165 decibels; over 40 more decibels than a rock concert or firecrackers. She then cited that OSHA requires hearing protection at only 85 decibels.

“Will employees of neighboring businesses, O.S.C.A.R. volunteers and potential pet adopters have to wear ear protection for OSHA compliance?” Prisco asked. She also questioned if there were any plans on decibel and acoustic testing, the impact on property values of neighboring residences and, if the firing range makes the shelter’s location no longer appropriate, would the council be prepared to help with the cost to relocate and purchase an equivalent property.

Prisco became emotional, saying “We worked so hard to be able to buy our shelter. It took us years of fundraising and bank loans to have the money to purchase the property. When we purchased it it was in such disrepair and we spent countless hours getting it up and running.

“One of the things that attracted us to this property was the setting," she said. "It was such a peaceful place for abused and neglected dogs to rehabilitate while waiting to be adopted. Now all of that is in jeopardy. A shelter can be stressful enough for a dog or cat but some of the animals are absolutely terrified of loud or sudden noises. If we had known that Hopatcong would want to ruin the peace and tranquility of the area by putting in an outdoor shooting range we would never have bought it.”

Several other people came forward in opposition to the range, making passionate pleas to the council. One Hopatcong resident cited a published report from 2016 that questioned the previous administration’s lack of transparency regarding disclosure of the firing range and accused the current administration of the same. The Council denied these allegations stating that they have always been transparent and also stated that the firing range ”is still currently in the planning phase.”

Also present in opposition to the firing range were residents of Lake Lackawanna, Lake Hopatcong, the Hopatcong Pound Project and Eleventh Hour Rescue, another animal rescue organization.

Roger Keyser, a volunteer for Eleventh Hour ,said “I am shocked that the town has proposed a gun range so close to the O.S.C.A.R. shelter. In my opinion it would be impossible to remediate the piercing sounds of gunfire so nearby to these dogs who have already endured such hardship. Any attempts to muffle the sounds of gunfire would not be enough. For many dogs and cats those sounds will force them into even further withdrawal making their rehabilitation and preparation for adoption to their forever, loving homes an impossibility.”

“Loud noises such as thunder, fireworks and gunfire can cause severe anxiety and stress in many dogs and cats.” said Dr. Kristie Steele, Medical Director of Advanced Veterinary Care in Franklin, NJ. “It can also cause other medical conditions, such as stress colitis.”

Byram Mayor Alex Rubenstein also opposes the proposed range and created a Facebook Group called Citizens Concerned About the Hopatcong Police Shooting Range. In December, Rubenstein posted: “The purpose of this group is to educate people about the shooting range that is likely to be built on a property near Sparta-Stanhope Road. It is in close proximity to houses, recreation land, businesses and even an animal shelter. It is also in the Highlands Preservation Area.”

Rubenstein and Byram Township Councilman Harvey Roseff helped launch an online legal fund set up by O.S.C.A.R., with the goal of hiring an attorney to fight for the animal shelter’s interests and "ensure that Hopatcong follows proper processes."

No members of the Hopatcong Town Council returned requests for comment. The governing body, however, is on record saying it ‘understands this is a sensitive topic’ and that unless there is a way to mitigate the noise to an acceptable level the range would not be constructed. The council has said it will take every precaution to address concerns.

Hopatcong Mayor Michael Francis has said that “the borough will continue to work with the Planning Board and secure any necessary safety and environmental permissions before moving forward.”

“No matter what you try to tell us," prisco said at the meeting, "we all know that nothing you do will spare the animals from the noise. It will absolutely terrify the animals at our shelter. You need to find another place for your range. One that’s far enough from town residents and one that is certainly not anywhere near an animal shelter.”

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