Battle over rifle range

A request for increased centrefire activity at a Cobaw shooting range has triggered calls for an investigation into the site and stirred disquiet from the past.
The Sporting Shooters Association of Australia has applied to extend operating hours for centrefire rifles and shotguns to meet user demand, but objectors say the move will further impact amenity and safety for neighbouring residents and Cobaw Forest users.
Increased noise levels and apparent deficiencies in safety barriers were major concerns, according to nearby resident Chris Litchfield.
“The dodgy baffles recently installed leave us with very little comfort about the safety of the range,” she said.
“One only needs to look at the trees at the far end of the range which have been shot clean through to know that bullets are flying off into the forest and beyond.”
Objectors say SSAA’s request also flies in the face of specific use limitations placed on the facility by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal back in 2004.
At the time, the tribunal sought balance by limiting the centrefire rifle and shotgun use to two hours on a Saturday. This was seen as a compromise for all parties, according to Marcus Ward who was one of the many objectors to the change.
“The surrounding community has reluctantly accepted the umpire’s decision as a fair compromise. This is not evidence that the shooting is not impacting people, or that they won’t notice the shooting,” Mr Ward said.
“The current site is not suitable for increased hours of operation for centrefire rifles due to the recognised acoustic impact it will have not just on the surrounding houses, but the forest users.”
SSAA has landed in VCAT at least three times for disputes around the range location and operations. Strong opposition to the range saw a Cobaw Anti Shooting Range Association form in 1994 which had 100 members at its peak.
Former group chairman Doug Hennebery led two VCAT cases against the shooting range (1994 and 1996) and CASRA even made an offer to purchase the site back in 1994 to stop the range from going ahead.
“The applications will just keep coming and coming. The more people they get there, the more activity there will be, and the more danger it will be to the forest. The trees are not there to stop the bullets,” Mr Hennebery said.
SSAA Victoria facilities manager Shaun Doyle said the request was made to meet the demand and increased interest among recreational shooters and would allow competitions for sporting shooters.
Mr Doyle told the Express there were more than 800 members registered to the Cobaw branch and the range was also open to public use. He estimated 90 per cent of users were from the Macedon Ranges.
“We follow strict EPA guidelines. The range is cut into the side of a hill and is bordered by an earth mound which helps to contain noise,” Mr Doyle said.
“We are working with expert consultants to ensure full compliance with these guidelines as part of this application.”
Mr Doyle said the range had an overhead baffle in place which prevented the shooter at the bench from seeing any sky.
“A misdirected shot would strike the baffle and be deflected to a safe area within the range site,” he said.
SSAA say the installation was inspected by Victorian Police and found to meet the design standards.
According to Macedon Ranges Shire Council, works undertaken at the site have been in accordance with the permit with no record of complaints regarding operation of the site.

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