FLORENCE — Pinal County personnel are clearing a road to an isolated 10-acre tract south of Arizona Farms Road for a future sheriff’s shooting range, which neighbors fear will cause property values to plummet in the surrounding pristine desert and open range land north of Florence.

Bret Marchant, a cattle rancher, said it was “sprung on landowners who had no clue.” Since it’s Pinal County’s project, it did not require notifying neighbors and following a public rezoning process as would be required of a regular citizen.

Marchant said a regular citizen probably couldn’t do it. He said he called the Pinal County planning department to inquire about building a shooting range in a General Rural zone, and “they actually laughed at me” and said it would never be approved.

Marchant guessed surrounding properties, held as investments or with the hopes of building houses someday, will be devalued 50% or more by the presence of a shooting range, and perhaps 600 acres will be affected.

The project is about 1,650 feet away from one 18-year resident, and a bit farther from two other landowners who are in the early stages of planning homes. The longtime resident, who asked not to be identified, said he will hear a decibel level above what’s allowed in the county’s noise ordinance “every time they fire a shot.”

The resident said the loss of property value amounts to a “taking” by the government. “For the county to ramrod it through seems outrageous.”

Pinal County Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh, R-Coolidge, whose district the shooting range will be in, also expressed dismay at the lack of public notice in an interview with PinalCentral.

“I’ve asked county management not to let this happen again. Just because we can do it doesn’t make it right,” Cavanaugh said. He said he has recommended that a sheriff’s representative and perhaps also someone from Pinal County Public Works meet with citizens to discuss specifics, “and see if they can get buy-in from the neighbors. … My goal as a supervisor is to see that all of our processes are carefully vetted and examined moving forward.”

Marchant said he learned of the county’s plans after he saw flags marking the future road. He said the county would better serve taxpayers by buying a piece of state land somewhere else that wouldn’t negatively affect neighbors.

No one from Pinal County management or the Sheriff’s Office had responded to PinalCentral’s request for comment by late Monday afternoon.

Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Matthew Thomas responded to the longtime resident by email that the office chose this location because it was remote but central. It also won’t be visible from the main roads, he said.

Thomas told the resident in another email that the Sheriff’s Office has an indoor range in Florence that it has been using for over a decade. But this range has several health and safety issues, and the department’s desire is to close it. He continued that it’s not as simple as using another agency’s shooting range.

While it’s true there are other local ranges, they are owned and controlled by others, Thomas said. “This means that we are competing with every other agency or entity that uses them, and lose the ability to conduct our training as needed. With an agency our size, and the amount and frequency of the training, it is just not feasible for us to do this.”

Thomas’s email continued, “Our intent and the design of this entire range is to be completely self-contained and safe. The design itself is such that it is following national standards for barrier height/width, and to ensure that the firing of projectiles is contained within the firing areas.

“Of course to access the range, we have to create a road to the range, and we conducted all the required land studies to do so, and this road will be developed/constructed to proper standards, as well as maintained for our exclusive use.”

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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