The McDuffie County Planning Commission has voted against allowing the sheriff’s department to construct a firearms training center northwest of Thomson.
At its Jan. 3 meeting, the planners voted 2-1 to recommend the gun range be denied.
Members Ron Hickman and Don McCorkle voted in favor of the motion to deny. Georgia C. Hobbs voted against that measure. Chairman Charles Wallace also said he opposed the measure. Because there was no tie to break, the chairman’s vote was not recorded. A fifth commission member was absent.
Commissioners will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Thomson-McDuffie County Government Center.
Sheriff’s Department Maj. Ronnie Williamson presented the case for the range on a 210-acre, county-owned parcel at Old Wrightsboro Road and Vic Moore Road northwest of Thomson.
Opponents argued that the county should sell the land and put it back on the tax rolls. They also said noise from the shooting range would destroy the tranquility of the area.
Williamson said recent court decisions require police departments to better train officers to fire under varying conditions. “And also, we’ve got to train them when not to shoot,” said Williamson, who has been a firearms instructor since 1979.
“We’re living in a different world today,” he said, citing statistics on shooting deaths among police agencies.
Williamson said the department now uses the old Georgia Department of Natural Resources range at the McDuffie Public Fishing Area. He said the sheriff’s department must coordinate shooting hours with the DNR, and that process limits opportunities. He also said the range does not afford low-light shooting and other training options.
Wallace said the county bought the 210 acres in the 1990s for a landfill. Wallace, a county commissioner at that time, said escalating costs from tighter regulations forced the county to scrap that project.
The 210-acre parcel is adjacent to another county-owned, 86-acre parcel.
Retired game warden Philip Moss said the smaller lot contains a cemetery. He also said the county would be better served by selling the land and putting it back on the tax digest.
Jim Alfriend, a forestry manager, said the area north of the old Wrightsboro community is isolated. He said the county should sell the land or at least set up a timber management plan. “The county’s not in the business of owning 300 acres of land,” he said.
He urged the sheriff’s department to find a better location, such as underused public land or a dormant kaolin mine.
After the vote, Williamson said a new range ‘‘is in the best interests of law enforcement officers.
“This is what makes America great. Two different groups can tell their sides, shake hands, and walk out.”