(NE) Residents taking aim at hunting center plan


March 25, 2003, 05:29 PM
Omaha World Herald (Nebraska)

March 24, 2003, Monday MIDLANDS EDITION


LENGTH: 556 words

HEADLINE: Residents taking aim at hunting center plan

BYLINE: By Todd von Kampen


DATELINE: Wahoo, Neb.

With Lake Wanahoo's long-awaited federal approval in hand, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is hoping for quick local clearance to build a nearby youth hunter-training center.

Neighbors are dusting off their objections to the two-year plans for the center, pinning their hopes in part on arguments that the lead from spent bullets would contaminate groundwater, diluting the lake's environmental benefits.

The residents won at least a month's reprieve March 10, when the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District board tabled an agreement to sell 25 acres to Game and Parks for the training center.

Last-minute changes to the agreement led to the delay, said Game and Parks outdoor-education specialist Jeff Rawlinson.

It will return to the NRD's agenda April 14. The Saunders County Board and the Wahoo City Council also will take it up around that time, he said.

The proposed site is part of about 1,600 acres in the $ 30 million Sand Creek Watershed Project. The larger project will restore wetlands, improve wildlife habitat and build eight flood-control dams, capped by the 639-acre Lake Wanahoo.

Game and Parks, which is developing recreation and wildlife-management areas for Wanahoo, proposed the $ 2 million hunter-training center in 2001 for a site just north of the lake.

The commission would tap money from hunting and fishing licenses to pay for the complex, which would include public archery and firearms ranges.

Youths could practice with instructors on live game in the wildlife-management area, Game and Parks officials say.

The plan was mothballed while Wahoo-area leaders waited to see if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would provide the bulk of construction funds for the Sand Creek project.

The corps finally got the green light in January, and Congress followed up in February by providing the first $ 500,000 in construction funds. Work on Lake Wanahoo's dam is set to start this fall, with the bulk of Sand Creek work set for 2004 and 2005.

Opponents were waiting when Game and Parks brought its plan back in late February to the Lake Wanahoo Committee. That group, made up of officials from the Lower Platte North NRD, Saunders County and the City of Wahoo, advanced the plan to the three parent boards.

About a dozen families own homes near the Wanahoo site. Developers' plans for more homes will be stymied if the center is built, said Sandy Sullivan, who would live a mile to its south.

Residents fear that stray bullets will land in the area. "We feel there will be noise pollution and our property values will go down," Sullivan said.

Another argument has been launched by K.C. Engdahl, an Omaha lawyer seeking to block the center on behalf of area developer Gordon Dolezal.

He says lead from spent bullets in the shooting ranges could find its way into groundwater and Lake Wanahoo.

"They're spending a lot of money to restore pristine conditions," Engdahl said.

"Having an area with concentrated human activity and an unappreciated or unknown risk with lead being released into the ground has never been considered."

Game and Parks has said the center "will be state-of-the-art," said Nelson Carpenter, the corps' Sand Creek project manager. "We won't have those issues with lead."

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