Your tax money will pay to clean up forest after shooting club used it for decades

by: John Knicely Updated:

INDEX, Wash. - The tiny town of Index, Wash. offers breathtaking views along the Snohomish River just northwest of Stevens Pass.  Now, part of the national forest there has been deemed contaminated and unusable.  And your tax money will be used to once again make it usable after a shooting club used it for decades.

From 1947 to 2009, the land just west of town was a shooting range.  The Index Sportsmen Club was started by World War II veterans.  Over the years, many in the community used the range and clubhouse, including the Sultan High School trapshooting team.

Now, the land is bare and deemed unusable.  Remnants of clay pigeons from trap shooting can still be found across the grounds.

For decades, the club operated with the Environmental Protection Agency's blessing.  But in 1987, the club stopped renewing permits.  When the feds realized it in the early 2000s, they did an environmental investigation.  Now, the U.S. Attorney has won a lawsuit against the club for lead contamination.  It's going to cost you, the taxpayer.

Debbie Copple was the club president and contends the U.S. Forest Service was bent on shutting them down.

“This is not an environmental problem,” Copple said.  “The only way this is an environmental problem is if you went out and ate the dirt.  It was an EPA-certified range, 57 years of spotless history, and yet it had to be taken down. Why?”

In 2009, the club was shut down when it couldn't meet cleaning and operating demands from the US Forest Service.  The federal lawsuit cites testing from 2006 and 2011 that found “lead is present in the soil, exceeding human health criteria.”             

KIRO 7 Eyewitness News had University of Washington environmental engineer, Dr. John Kissel independently review the findings.

“It's not appropriate for unrestricted human access,” he said.  “The primary threat is to children who might ingest the soil.  Sampling results are as such that you wouldn't want unrestricted use.  You couldn't, for example, use it as a campground, which would be a reasonable use.”

The U.S. Forest Service chose the least-involved cleanup option.  It will cap the land with clean backfill and compost at a cost of roughly $850,000.  The club's insurance and assets will pay for the majority of it.  Taxpayers will be left covering $180,000, not including legal and investigative costs.

KIRO 7 spoke to many people in the town of Index.  Most had strong thoughts on the situation but didn’t want to be part of the story.  Many of them were once members of the shooting club.

Tom Groesser moved just down the road from the old shooting range a year ago.  He thinks more needs to be done.

“If there's lead in the ground this close to the river, the site really needs to be cleaned up,” Groesser said.  “You can cap it, but you're still going to have all that flow into the river.”

Copple agrees the land should be capped now that the club is shut down.  But she’s still adamant the club never should have been shut down.

Kissel sees it differently.

“It amounts to release of chemical contaminants,” he said, “on the land not owned by the people releasing the contaminants.”