Farming could return to land by Walla Walla Gun Club

Cleanup could be required down the line depending on what the property ultimately is used for.

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WALLA WALLA -- In the fields where clay pigeons and shotgun pellets have landed, wheat could potentially sprout again.

As the Walla Walla Gun Club makes plans for a move to Lowden in the distant future, the Port of Walla Walla will have to consider what to do with the more than 8 acres that have served as a landing zone for lead shot and clay pigeons.

Redevelopment for a new use could be tricky given the detection a few years ago of the presence of arsenic from the lead shot and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, contaminants linked to cancer and associated with old clay pigeons dating before the 1970s. Port of Walla Walla commissioners Mike Fredrickson and Paul Schneidmiller said the Port might be able to generate revenue by restoring wheat crops on the land.

No changeover is expected any time soon. The Walla Walla Gun Club, which announced this week plans for a move to 71 acres off Woodward Canyon Road, said a move of the existing trap and skeet ranges could be two years out.

Fredrickson said the property off Middle Waitsburg Road is not located in the Port's core business park at the Walla Walla Regional Airport and is not expected to be highly sought after for new development right away.

Still redevelopment for a new use may require serious cleanup. The Gun Club has been a tenant at the property since 1949. Though products used in the manufacture of clay pigeons long ago became more environmentally friendly, the products used five decades ago have left a scar at the property in the form of soil contamination.

Port officials became concerned about the contaminants after five years ago after reading that the city of Arlington, Wash., had to pay nearly $700,000 to clean up clay pigeon shards that accumulated at an old shooting range near the municipal airport there.

They had the property tested and contamination was detected. Department of Ecology officials said at the time that cleanup would not be required unless the Port planned to change the land-use designation for a new type of tenant.

The Port had been growing wheat on some of the property as a revenue source. They stopped growing the wheat so the Gun Club could mine the property for lead, Schneidmiller said.

But with the potential loss of revenue from the Gun Club's lease on the distant horizon, Port officials say they will look for ways to maximize revenue from the property.

Fredrickson said he wishes the Gun Club well. He believes the 71-acre property where the organization plans to move off Woodward Canyon Road is likely more beneficial for the longstanding group. At the Port property, the Gun Club can't add rifle or pistol ranges because of space and safety limitations. The move to Lowden may allow the organization to grow by offering services for a wider range of users, he said.

Nevertheless, the Port will lose the revenue generated by a more than six-decades-long partnership. The Gun Club's current lease rate is $950 per month. That amount was expected to incrementally increase over the life of the lease to $1,400 a month.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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