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A building along the main range at Montlake Classic Clays firing range is seen on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. The range has been offered to city and county law enforcement as a replacement for the Moccasin Bend range.

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Out of range? Mowbray property could be option for police training

Chattanooga mayor Andy Berke’s statement:

“While I was in the legislature, I led an effort to ensure the range on Mowbray Mountain could continue to function for sporting purposes. We have not investigated whether that would allow it to be used for a law enforcement range because our first duty is to identify all the necessary requirements of an alternative location. As the task force meets, we are relying on the police department to help us identify to best places to relocate the range while still providing superior training and operational efficiency for CPD officers. At the same time, we will be balancing the fiscal implications of the relocations, seeking grant opportunities and any other assistance that will limit the burden on taxpayers.”

When a member of the Moccasin Bend firing range committee asked how much a new law enforcement firing range would cost, Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher's answer raised a few eyebrows.

Before the question finished rolling off city Finance Director Daisy Madison's tongue, Fletcher said a new range would cost $15 million.

That price — if it stuck — would exceed the price of a new police firing range in Denver, nearly triple the price of a similar new facility in Tampa and triple the price of a proposed $5 million range the city and county were unwilling to fully pay for in 2014.

It's also more than five times the price of a privately owned local facility Fletcher toured last year that could be an option if police are willing to stomach the 18-mile drive to Mowbray Mountain.

Police need a new range to fulfill a 2003 agreement to vacate the land for the development of Moccasin Bend National Park. Moving the firing range is part of developing a 10-acre gateway to the archeological district of the park, according to national park officials.

Montlake Classic Clays owner Craig Sheaffer said Wednesday he was prepared to sell his 57-acre clay shooting course on Mowbray Pike for $2.95 million last year after he said city and police officials contacted him.

The land would require some tweaks, such as the addition of shooting targets, to suit police weapons-certification requirements. But even with the adjustments, the total would be unlikely to approach the $5 million price tag for an indoor range on East 12th Street in 2014.

The Montlake site also has plenty of outdoor space for the special outdoor training and shooting exercises that law enforcement do at the 33-acre Moccasin Bend facility. Lack of outdoor space was a drawback at the planned 12th Street range.

There are obstacles, though, ranging from Montlake's distance from downtown to potential — even probable — ire over the noise of handguns, rifles and shotguns booming out for hours at a time.

At 18 miles from the Police Services Center on Amnicola Highway compared to the eight-mile drive to Moccasin Bend, Montlake Classic Clays lacks the convenience of the current range or a potential indoor option closer to the city's core.

"It's hard, when you're on duty, to just run by Mowbray Mountain," Hamilton County Chief Deputy Alan Branum said.

Still, Montlake Classic Clays' status as an existing outdoor firing range makes it attractive to police who want an outdoor component, because building a new outdoor range close to civilization can be a challenge.

Neighbors to potential new ranges are legally entitled to object to their establishment because of noise and safety concerns, and Fletcher remarked at a previous committee meeting that Grundy County might be the closest place to build a new outdoor range without complaints.

Montlake was grandfathered in under a law enacted in 2010 and sponsored by then-state senator, and now Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.

But if law enforcement took over the range and closed it to the public, neighbors might regain grounds for complaint. And police have expressed it would not be ideal to share a range with the public.

Fletcher deferred to police spokesman Kyle Miller this week when contacted about Montlake Classic Clays and the type of facility he envisioned getting for $15 million.

"Chief Fletcher and his staff are continuing to review all available options," Miller wrote in an email. "Any further comment on this topic would be improper at this time."

The Montlake idea seems to be on the back burner as the committee prepares to break off into three subcommittees with the goal of having a plan for the new range in place by the end of the year. The subcommittees' tasks are to identify potential locations for a new range; explore funding strategies and outline what police need at the firing range.

"Certainly, it was stated then that there may be logistical concerns," said Friends of Moccasin Bend board member and firing range committee member Rob Taylor regarding Montlake Classic Clays. "To say it's been dismissed, that's the property group that would take that up if it's a serious consideration."

"I do appreciate the cooperation of the Montlake owners," added Branum. "The concern is just the setting it's in with getting up there, and the high population area."

The flirting game law enforcement have played with his facility is perplexing to Shaeffer, though, because he said police have seemed genuinely interested and impressed with the potential of Montlake Classic Clays.

"They came to me," Shaeffer said. "It's not like I put up a for-sale sign."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

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