LIHU‘E —It is a round, flat object that flies without fuel, but it’s not a flying saucer from a distant planet, although it may look like it. It’s a clay pigeon thrown high up in the sky only to be shot down by gun enthusiasts; or anyone else older than 12 years old.
The Kaua‘i Planning Commission on Tuesday approved permits for a clay pigeon shooting facility on a property along Ma‘alo Road, near Kapaia Electric Power Plant.
The shooting range, planned as a 100 percent eco-friendly facility, is something Ben Ellsworth has dreamed of since he was a child, when he used to wake up early in the morning to go shooting.
Now, with the commission’s stamp of approval, Ellsworth’s dream could well become reality. The owner of Kaua‘i Eco Sporting Clays plans to fence off a 12-acre property in Ma‘alo and turn it into a shooting range business, complete with five shooting stands, 12- and 20-gage shotguns and lots of clay pigeons.
“The idea is to provide locals a place to shoot legally,” said Ellsworth, adding that locals will be able to bring in their shotguns but will have to use the facility-provided ammunition, made of biodegradable steel rather than lead.
“By us using steel-shot only, we eliminate any of the possibilities of harming any animals or the environment,” he said.
The clay pigeons will also be biodegradable, Ellsworth said.
The minimum age to utilize the facility is 12 years old, according to Ellsworth.
“There are so many opportunities in this.” he said. “We want to be able to promote gun safety and we want to be able to teach kids gun safety.”
Guns these days get a “bad rep” but they are not dangerous as long as people know how to operate guns, Ellsworth said.
“First and foremost, we want to be safe,” he said. “Next we want to have fun, we want to educate and have a good time.”
Ellsworth said the fence will surround the property and projectiles cannot leave the area, given their maximum range of 200 yards, according to Ellsworth.
“The property itself is a natural-safety zone,” said Ellsworth, who said he could “definitely” post signs around the property, as suggested by commissioners.
He also said the facility will not need any utilities.
Some area residents were concerned that Ellsworth’s childhood dreams may become a daytime nightmare to them.
Ma‘alo Road resident Ginger Carlson was concerned with the potential noise. She said about a year ago some farmers were shooting birds for two weekends in a row in a nearby area.
“All of Hanama‘ulu subdivision up there and all of us who live here heard it, every shot” Carlson said. “And it’s at that same elevation.”
She asked commissioners to add to the permits a condition that tells Ellsworth to do sound mitigation if the noise bothers the business’ neighbors.
“My main concern is noise,” said Pat Cocket, a resident of Isenberg Tract, on the Lihu‘e side of the property.
Ellsworth said he conducted a series of round tests in the area, using cell phones to communicate with shooters and standing in different places to find out if the shots could be heard.
He said he could not hear any shots fired when he stood next to the house, which was the closest to the shooting range, about three-quarters-of-a-mile away.
Once the facility is all set up, it will be even harder to hear the shots, because of two 40-foot containers placed directly behind the shooting stands, according to Ellsworth.
Cocket, however, questioned the validity of Ellsworth’s tests, saying he was “a little nervous” about the protocol Ellsworth used.
Sound tests for clay pigeon facilities normally use calibrated equipment and are conducted in distinct meteorological conditions, which could cause a difference of up to 30 decibels in the results, according to Cocket.
“I’m asking for a scientific analysis of gun noise from the site,” he said. “The protocol is out there, it’s there. It has been done in many, many places in the country.”
Planning Director Michael Dahilig said he didn’t think a condition for a scientific sound test was necessary, but would be willing to revisit the permits in case there are complaints after the facility begins operations. Each complaint would be investigated in a case-by-case basis, he said.
The commission added a condition to the permits, telling Ellsworth to provide a staff report one year from the date of approval.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.