The McDuffie County Sheriff’s Department has the go-ahead to develop a law enforcement firearms training range northwest of Thomson.
Maj. Ronnie Williamson, who had directed the project through a succession of public meetings, said the county will keep its pledge to be a good neighbor. He said he will contact representatives of hunting clubs whose members had objected to the shooting range. Williamson said the range will be built in six phases, beginning with constructing a sand barrier around the firing range.
McDuffie County Commissioners voted last week to let the sheriff’s department set up the firearms training range in a rural area northwest of Thomson.
The 3-0 vote overturned a recommendation from the county planning commission, which had opposed the special use permit.
County Planning Director Fred Guerrant recapped discussion from the planning meeting. He said there would be very little change at the site for at least two years.
Williamson said federal court rulings establish standards for police firearms training. “And one key is that they must be trained in the environment in which they work,” he said. That requires exposure to low-light shooting and other options that are not available in more populated areas, he said.
He said recent headlines demonstrate that officers confront people who have little or no regard for life.
Commissioner the Rev. Fred Favors made the motion to approve using county-owned land for a firing range. Commissioners Bill Jopling and Sammie Wilson supported the motion. Commissioner Paul McCorkle was absent. Favors rejected a suggestion by Commission Chairman Charlie Newton to postpone a decision until McCorkle could be present.
The range will be built on about 3 acres of county-owned land off Vic Moore Road, north of Wrightsboro Road. In all, the county owns about 297 acres in that vicinity.
Dearing Mayor Sean Kelley spoke in favor of the training range. He said police officers put their lives on the line and deserve the best training available. He described the decision as “a no-brainer.”
Jeanne Harris told commissioners she agreed with Williamson that police face a criminal element that has no respect for life. She said she supports police and supports the training facility.
Former game warden Philip Moss spoke against the run range. He said he supports the need for a modern training range but is not sure the range belongs in that area. “I don’t think it fits,” said Moss, who asked whether the current shooting range in Dearing could be upgraded.
Thomas Black said he supports a good training facility but does not believe that changes at the site will be minimal or slow. He said first someone will just propose to pile up dirt as a backstop for projectiles, and then soon there will be momentum to enclose the area.
The county has been using the former Department of Natural Resources training range at the fish hatchery property in Dearing.
In presentations last year before the county public safety committee and the commissioners, Williamson explained that the DNR no longer uses the Dearing gun range. He said the state agency has been cooperative in making the range available, but that the county now needs to make other arrangements.
The range will be built on a patch of land that is less wooded than the rest of the property. It is thought to be the area that was most heavily used when timber was last removed from the property.