August 6, 2008

Stony Creek Firing-Range Buffer Plan Is Put On Hold

By Ad Crable

Fort Indiantown Gap has put on indefinite hold controversial plans to use 900 acres of popular game lands north of Harrisburg as a buffer for a new firing range.

The time ran out on us for the funding from the Department of Defense. We're putting the money back into the National Guard pot, said Lt. Col. Chris Cleaver, spokesman for the 17,100-acre training facility in Lebanon County owned by the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The Pennsylvania National Guard and the Pennsylvania Game Commission had a signed agreement for the fort to close 900 acres on the north slope of Second Mountain in Game Lands 211, also known as Stony Creek and St. Anthony's Wilderness, for up to 90 days a year.

The DMVA said it needed the land for buffer for a planned new firing range to train with Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M1 tanks. As part of the agreement, the DMVA was going to give about 450 acres of unused land in Dauphin County to the Game Commission, as well as $2 million worth of new state game lands at a location that was never announced.

But the proposal had been bitterly opposed by a citizens group, the Stony Valley Coalition, which said the Game Commission should not allow interference in the semi-wilderness area.

The Stony Creek game lands contain the state's first designated scenic river and a rail-trail for the public.

The DMVA originally wanted to own 2,100 acres of the game lands in exchange for a similar amount of land near the DeHart Dam. But in the face of opposition, the range was reconfigured and downsized several times to try to satisfy concerns and the land takeover was dropped, Cleaver said.

Public opposition played into it, certainly, Cleaver said. When community groups talked, we listened.

Cleaver said DMVA is still looking to preserve the 450 acres for environmental reasons and to keep it undeveloped to buffer existing ranges.

When asked about the dropping of the new firing range, Jim Rice of the Stony Valley Coalition said, I really don't think they're done.

Cleaver said the military would continue with an environmental assessment for the project that's been under way. We've already invested in the documentation. We will be able to use it as a baseline for other studies we do in the future.

Public comments may be made until Aug. 29 by writing Lt. Col. Chris Cleaver, DMVA-PAO, Ft. Indiantown Gap, Annville, Pa., 17031.

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