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Henderson County backing off Saluda shooting range

Polk commissioners’ letter pushes two counties to work together on solution

COLUMBUS — A letter from the Polk County Board of Commissioners to leaders with Henderson County has prompted the latter to consider new plans for its proposed training center near Saluda.

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners announced during its meeting Wednesday that it would accept an offer from Polk County to work jointly to find a new location for the proposed facility on Macedonia Road in Saluda, amid concerns from residents and others in Polk County about how a firing range could affect the quality of life in the community. A line of residents went around the building waiting to enter the meeting in Hendersonville to oppose the choice of location.

Polk County commissioners decided to write a letter to Henderson County earlier in the week to state their opposition to the range’s location. The Polk County board met Monday, and heard from a few Saluda residents about the proposed range.

Polk County Commissioner Tommy Melton was particularly vocal about his opposition to the location of the range, and how Henderson County handled a meeting last Saturday, where Saluda residents were reportedly barred from attending.

Melton said he has spoken to several Saluda residents, and that he supports law enforcement training and supports guns. However, Henderson County has the justice center in Edneyville to train, as well as facilities in Rutherford, Buncombe and Polk counties, he said.

The commissioner said he cannot wrap his head around how a meeting last Saturday was handled at the Henderson County Courthouse. The meeting was by invitation only for adjoining property owners, but hundreds of Saluda residents attended with some reportedly threatened to be arrested if they entered the building, according to Sara Bell, who Polk commissioners invited to Monday’s meeting for information.

“My God, we don’t live in a communist country,” Melton said. “We live in America. A citizen should have the right to come in and hear what’s being said. That is ludicrous to bar a citizen from coming. If we can’t fit everybody in here, by God, we’ll move to the high school. If we can’t get in there, we’ll move somewhere else. But every citizen should have the right to come in and hear what is being said.”

Commissioner chair Jake Johnson responded, “it sounds like we’re all cool with the letter,” as the audience laughed.

Saluda resident Carolyn Ashburn said Saluda depends on its outdoor activities for drawing folks to their small town, and a shooting range will definitely impact that.

Betsy Burdett said her property is split between Henderson and Polk counties. She said all benefits she has ever received is from Polk County.

“There’s nothing good for Polk County coming out of this shooting range that I can see except expense,” Burdett said.

Burdett said she is assuming property values in Polk County will go down because of the center, it will be loud, there will be traffic, and it will impact the tourism and Green River Adventures, which the state has provided a lot of money for the Green River Game Lands. She also said a training facility will add to Polk County’s pollution.

“It is a very steep piece of property that is the wrong piece of property,” Burdett said. “They put it over on our side of the Green River because they don’t want it on their side of the Green River.”

Bill Nelson also expressed his opposition, and requested Polk County formally oppose the shooting range, saying, “Saluda is truly a bedroom community.”

Bell gave commissioners facts about the proposed location. She spoke of issues such as lead concentration in the soil, and what that could do to nearby wells, the Green River and to Lake Adger.

Bell said the total cost of the project is $6 million, and Macedonia Road is the fourth location Henderson County has proposed because of public outcry at each location.

Bell said she attended last Saturday’s meeting and the sheriff began his presentation by saying the land was perfect. According to Bell, the sheriff has never stepped foot on the Macedonia Road property.

Bell also said some testing at the proposed facility has been done, and she and her employees could hear it. Bell also said Henderson County recently did not use 60 days of available training in Edneyville and 80 partial days.

Polk County Manager Marche Pittman said Polk officers have been using Edneyville and Rutherford County training facilities with no issues.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said it is interesting to him that the proposed facility is right next to Polk County, and he did not hear about it until he started getting phone calls from residents.

Pittman said his first phone call was from Bell.

Gasperson also expressed concern about Henderson County allegedly shutting the public out of a meeting. He said Polk County is considered one of the most transparent counties in the state.

Gasperson said he shares other concerns, with the concerns having nothing to do with making sure law enforcement officers are trained, but about the location. He said this is moving at a rapid pace.

Commissioner Shane Bradley said he is concerned about the transparency and that is  there been no contact with Polk County. He said Henderson County only let adjoining property owners into a meeting, and there is public wildlife that adjoins the property, so everybody should have been able to attend.

Bradley said Polk County should try to open up a line of communication with Henderson County.

Commissioner Myron Yoder said he is with the rest of commissioners, and absolutely opposes the facility where it is being proposed. He said for Henderson County to spend $6 million to ruin part of Polk County is “ludicrous.”

The Saluda Board of Commissioners also wrote a letter to Henderson County opposing the location of the facility.