UPDATE: Hamilton County Commissioners defer discussing spending more on firing range

UPDATE: Hamilton County Commissioners defer discussing spending more on firing range

October 30th, 2013 by Beth Burger and Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

An empty lot that is a possible space for a new indoor shooting range for the Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Sheriff Jim Hammond.

Sheriff Jim Hammond.

UPDATE: Hamilton County Commissioners chose to defer discussion about spending an additional $550,000 on a joint indoor firing range with the city of Chattanooga.

Sheriff Jim Hammond asked commissioners for the money today to pay for soil remediation and professional fees, but commissioners said they wanted more specific information before they would spend more than the $1.5 million they pledged at the outset of the project.

Chairman Fred Skillern asked that county staff talk with architects and bring specific information about the range before the commission on Nov. 13.

The decision was also made in part because a power outtage at the courthouse took down the recording system at the meeting.


The $4 million joint police firing range planned for downtown Chattanooga may turn out to be a $5 million range, but only if Hamilton County and city officials agree to pay an extra $528,000 apiece.

Sheriff Jim Hammond is expected to ask the Hamilton County Commission for the county's extra share today at a regularly scheduled 9:30 a.m. agenda session.

Commissioners previously pledged $1.5 million for the project, a joint training facility for sheriff's deputies and the Chattanooga Police Department. The city matched that, and the remainder was planned to be covered by $1.05 million in federal grant money.

But Hammond said Tuesday the project will need another $1.05 million due to architectural fees and soil remediation costs at the site on the 700 block of East 12th Street. He's asking the county for half that amount.

"Whatever [the added costs are], it's stuff they claim they didn't have the knowledge or ability to put in [to the final cost] until they got to the next step. This is supposed to be the final amount," Hammond said.

Shannon Ashford, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said Tuesday that an assessment at the site conducted several years ago found decades worth of impacted foundry sand, petroleum, lead and "a small chance that volatile contamination is present."

Before construction can begin, that material has to be contained, removed and replaced with clean soil, she said. It is unclear when that will happen.

Adding $1.05 million is a big price increase, but if the county doesn't put in, everyone will lose, Hammond said. Building two separate ranges would be too costly for taxpayers, he said.

"I know it's a lot of money, but I look at the fact that we have got to do a better job of training our officers. Most officers only get one shot every year," Hammond said. "We need this kind of range to move forward for law enforcement in this area. ... Whatever we build it needs to last us 25 to 30 years. We need to build it right the first time."

Commissioner Joe Graham, chairman of the commission's finance committee, said Tuesday he would hear Hammond's proposal with "an open mind."

"[Hammond] just said he was going to ask us for some extra revenue. I told him I would keep an open mind in the discussion," Graham said.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he added the item to the commission's agenda at Hammond's request. The commission would hear the item as a whole, he said.

Coppinger declined to speak specifically about the issue before commissioners heard Hammond's proposal.

Lacie Stone, spokeswoman for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, said a resolution was not on the agenda for the city next week, though one could be added later.

"I don't know of a resolution on the immediate horizon," she said.

The City Council voted in June to give the county half the rights to the firing range, and Councilwoman Carol Berz voiced concern then about how the tab would be split.

At that meeting, Travis McDonough, Berke's chief of staff, told Berz the county had contracted only to pay $1.5 million.

The county and city may see another cost associated with the range in the coming months, but that would be in the form of a cleaning bill for the old police firing range property on Moccasin Bend.

The new range is being built because the city and county had to stop using the Moccasin Bend site after a 30-year use agreement ran out.

The city and county agreed to donate the parcel to the National Park Service to become part of the Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District, but the council and commission learned in January they may be responsible for getting decades of spent ammunition out of the soil.

Chattanooga & Chickamauga National Military Park Superintendent Cathy Cook said Tuesday an environmental assessment of the old property is not complete.

"What we are doing right now is paying for an environmental assessment to determine what the level of cost would be for the cleanup on that," Cook said.

It is too early to determine who gets that bill, she said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6406.