An outpouring of citizen protests in Conewago township Monday evening resulted in a unanimous vote by the five supervisors to cease consideration of a police firearms training facility on the eastern edge of the municipality.
Faced with more than 70 residents, crowded into the township board room, demanding action, the supervisors recognized the futility of taking further steps in what township Manager Barbara Krebs described as “the very, very preliminary stages of looking into this.”
Several who spoke during the hour-long public comments session at the meeting’s outset voiced doubts their concerns were being heard and questioned the supervisors’ commitment to serving their constituents.
“If this goes through, I will run for supervisor and take one of your spots,” challenged resident Scott Becker.
Becker and others expressed concern the township would face lawsuits, huge increases in liability insurance premiums and other costly measures that would be borne by taxpayers.
The greatest concerns among the residents were safety for themselves and their families and preserving the quiet peaceful nature of the neighborhood along the Adams-York county border.
The public discussion was preceded by a presentation from Conewago Acting Police Chief Gary Baumgardner.
Baumgardner explained why officers need periodic “360 training” that cannot be achieved at firing ranges in neighboring Penn Township or the new Adams County facility.
Baumgardner, who conducts active shooter training, described changes in policing protocol following mass shootings in schools and other places.
Whereas patrol officers previously were instructed to await back-up and specially trained “SWAT” (special weapons and tactics) teams, officers everywhere now are expected to rush in and confront shooters, even if they must do so alone.
Accordingly, every officer must receive a higher level of specialized training to cope with one or more shooters who may come at them from any direction, he said.
Older firearms facilities, which Baumgardner described as “static,” are not adequate for the new type of training aimed at protecting officers and enabling them to better ensure public safety.
“Minimum training means maximum potential for failure,” said Baumgardner, and when it comes to protecting citizens officers are sworn to serve, “failure is not an option.”
Nearly every speaker at Monday night’s meeting gave assurances they appreciate public servants and favor the maximum level of training for police and other first responders.
Former Adams County Commissioner Tom Weaver expressed his confidence that “everyone in here would stipulate there’s no question about the need for training.”
But, Weaver went on to indicate his belief that adequate training facilities exist elsewhere and costs for sending Conewago officers to other sites likely will be far less than those projected for developing and maintaining a local firing range.
Weaver’s concern was echoed by the homeowners’ association president of the Preserves development, Chip Barger, who asked the township to research and publish cost estimates for offsite training experiences.
A flyer distributed among residents in the area surrounding the former sewage plant where the facility would be built offered three primary reasons why the project should be opposed.
Despite assurances that protective berms and other measures would guarantee safety for neighboring residents, the flyer asserted there could be no guarantees that bullet fragments or ricochets might not pose threats of injury or death.
Opponents further claim Conewago’s portion of costs for developing the new range in partnership with Penn Township and Hanover Borough, estimated at $100,000, would cause unnecessary burden upon the taxpayers.
Finally, in another safety-related concern, those opposed to the shooting range worry that lead from ammunition buried in wetlands could affect drinking water and create health threats over time.
After being in the line of fire themselves for over an hour, the supervisors put the matter to rest by adopting a resolution moved by Jeffery Sheely and seconded by John Strevig “to suspend consideration of a shooting range on the old sewage plant site.”
Baumgardner, Krebs and board chairman, Don Knight, expressed gratitude for the citizen turnout and engagement in a hot-button issue.
When Matthew Green told Baumgardner “I know you guys are here taking a lot of heat,” the officer responded, “I don’t take this as an attack; these are good questions you’re raising.”
While a majority of visitors departed after the firing range matter was dispatched, several who remained continued raising sharp questions in regard to other agenda items.
Expressing a concern for disregard of speed limits on Airport Road by drivers who use it for activities at the Plum Creek Recreation facility, Russ Vriezen pleaded, “Why can’t we slow people down on Airport Road.”
Krebs and the supervisors, who had discussed the matter at their earlier workshop, offered assurance that measures such as installing a speed bump or oiling the gravel road to mitigate dust blowing onto residential properties are being considered.
Traffic will be rerouted when the projected $20-30 million has been garnered to complete all phases of park development, likely in a decade or so, said Krebs. Meanwhile, safety considerations and ordinances require dual access, of which Airport Road is an essential component.
Also challenged were zoning-related issues that had been postponed from last month when a scheduled hearing was delayed at the request of the developer, Conewago Enterprises.
Research on the part of township staff and Solicitor Timothy Schultis discovered an error 10 years ago when setbacks for industrial facilities were printed as 500 feet rather than the intended 100 feet.
Ron Knisley, who lives in the Blettner Road corridor where Conewago Enterprises may build new large-scale facilities expressed his belief the 500-foot setback from adjacent property lines was intentional in 2009 when the township’s rezoning was “done with vision.” “I’m certainly upset with what I’m hearing here,” Knisely said.
One additional recent township occurrence was questioned. Charlotte Shaffer inquired why the township has an acting police chief.
Krebs responded that Police Chief Curtis McCoy is on administrative leave, at his own request, and that no additional information could be shared regarding “an ongoing personnel matter.”
Conewago residents were reminded that they may bring electronic equipment for recycling at the township building on Thursday, June 20.
The next supervisors’ meeting is scheduled for July 15, at 6:30 p.m., preceded by an open workshop session at 5 p.m.