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State Police suspend gun training at Van Ho

Neighbors, green groups complained

The shooting-riflery sport of biathlon involves shooting at a series of five targets, seen here Tuesday at the 1980 Olympic biathlon firing range at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

LAKE PLACID — State Police have paused firearms training on the 1980 Olympic biathlon firing range at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

The decision follows neighbor complaints, including from leaders of a nearby boarding school who worried about the impact on students, as well as concerns raised by Adirondack environmental groups who called into question whether such training was legal on state Forest Preserve land or authorized under the complex’s unit management plan.

“We have temporarily suspended our training at Mt. Van Hoevenberg while we seek to work alternative arrangements out with DEC (the state Department of Environmental Conservation) and ORDA (the state Olympic Regional Development Authority),” State Police Troop B Public Information Officer Jennifer Fleishman said.

Biathlon is a mix of skiing and shooting, so that firing range is made for guns to be discharged. Biathletes shoot a series of five targets with quiet, lightweight rifles. Neighbors said it sounded like State Police were using much louder, semi-automatic guns.

“This is way different than single-shot .22 caliber rifles used very occasionally for biathlon,” Sue Cameron, who lives nearby, wrote on social media last week.

The 1980 Olympic biathlon firing range at Lake Placid’s Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg is seen Tuesday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

In the past, Troop B conducted its required firearms training in Lisbon, St. Lawrence County. The training was recently moved from Lisbon to the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg because it provided “a more centralized location for several of our members,” Fleishman said. Troop B is based in Ray Brook, on the other side of Lake Placid from Mount Van Hoevenberg.

“The range at Mt. Van Hoevenburg is new for us,” she said. “We were training there last week. It was anticipated that we would complete our fall range course there for all of our Troop B sworn members this fall. However, due to recent developments we are, at the moment, not in use of that range.”

Neighbors lodge complaints

The 1980 Olympic biathlon firing range at Lake Placid’s Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg is seen Tuesday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

Some neighbors described the resulting noise as loud and disruptive. Some questioned why the training was being held in the vicinity of a school and a residential area.

“We’ve already endured two solid days of semi-automatic, high-caliber weapons fire in our neighborhood,” Cameron wrote on social media. “It’s loud, it’s incredibly disruptive to the peaceful nature of the neighborhood. … Not one iota of notice was given to neighboring property owners.”

Todd Ormiston, executive director of the nearby North Country School, said in a statement that firearms training at the Olympic Sports Complex was unusual.

“This activity is out of character with the usual ambient conditions on our campus and in our rural neighborhood,” he said. “While we understand the need for this type of training, we are disappointed that the effect of the related noise on school children was not taken into consideration, and that no notice was given. North Country School students are currently in session for the school year.”

Legal questions

A large part of the Olympic Sports Complex is still under construction as ORDA continues work on upgrades there, including the construction of a new three-story base lodge, two mountain coasters, new trails, a new cross-country ski stadium and an 8-million gallon snowmaking reservoir with storage. ORDA has estimated those upgrades will cost $40-50 million, and the site is expected to be under construction for roughly 26 months.

A portion of the Olympic Sports Complex closer to Route 73, including the biathlon shooting range, remains open. That’s where State Police were conducting their training last week. This facility was built in 1978, ahead of the 1980 Winter Olympics.

The biathlon range is located on state-owned Forest Preserve land classified as “intensive use,” according to ORDA spokesman Jon Lundin and DEC spokesman David Winchell. That’s the least restrictive classification.

Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer said his organization started hearing from concerned neighbors last week, and he asked the state Adirondack Park Agency about the activity. Protect the Adirondacks is an environmental advocacy group based in Johnsburg.

“Everything is different when they’re on the Forest Preserve and it’s not part of an authorized, publicly vetted program. It did not appear that (this training) was part of those things,” Bauer said. “There’s nothing in the unit management plan, that I could see, about training for State Police or other law enforcement at Mount Van Hoevenberg. … If it’s not in the UMP, then it is an activity that is not allowed.”

Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway went further, calling the training “probably illegal.”

“We support training for the state police at suitable locations and appreciate the suspension of this inappropriate and probably illegal activity on the Forever Wild Forest Preserve,” Janeway said in a statement.

DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald said the department is coordinating with ORDA on the use of the facility by State Police.

“DEC is working closely with ORDA to ensure this use of ORDA facilities is in compliance with applicable law,” she said.