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Bemidji Regional Airport Authority: Shooting club can stay for now

A delegation of local sports shooters won assurances Wednesday that they won't yet be chased out of their Bemidji Regional Airport home.

"We have no inclination to put you out on the street," Marshall Froyd, Bemidji Regional Airport Authority chairman, told about a half dozen members of the Bemidji Trap & Skeet Club.

But they will have to go in two years, said Airport Authority Executive Director Harold Van Leeuwen.

The shooting club members expressed concern that they will be pushed off the airport property -- a Federal Aviation Administration requirement -- but it won't be anytime soon. That'll give the club time to relocate to the proposed Beltrami County Shooting Sports Park in Eckles Township.

"The shooting park is moving along but slowly," said Dave Smith, Bemidji Trap & Skeet Club president. "We have full intentions of relocating to that park. But the timeline is moving slowly. There will be no construction this year, maybe next year."

Beltrami County, as part of its trails and recreation plan, is seeking funding -- more than $2 million -- to begin construction of the shooting sports park, which will provide a building/meeting rooms for the Trap & Skeet Club. The park will provide a variety of shooting experiences for the public and a range for law enforcement.

It will also serve as a trailhead for several motorized and non-motorized trails that pass through that area in Eckles Township on county-owned land.

The Trap & Skeet Club has been located for years on the west edge of the airport property near County Road 9, but it is clearly on airport-owned land, making the Airport Authority the owner of the property, said Van Leeuwen.

"The club has a concern about being evicted, but that's not happening anytime soon," he said. "You've got this summer and one more. We'll try to get you funding and get you relocated."

Van Leeuwen said he's trying to find "seed" money to help for the relocation by getting another agency to purchase the Trap & Skeet Club building, an asset he put at $180,000. The hope is to relocate the Civil Air Patrol to that building, so Van Leeuwen is seeking funds from either the Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security.

Another issue to be resolved is the removal of lead shot from the grounds.

"It is our full intention to harvest the lead," Smith said.

The reclamation effort is mandated, Van Leeuwen said, with both the FAA and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency involved. The MPCA will be on the airport this summer, testing wellheads for possible pollution from flame retardants used in Bemidji Fire Department training at the airport.

"They haven't asked about the lead, but they will be up here," Van Leeuwen said. "I don't expect a problem. It's not an issue at this point but they will survey the airport, and cleanup is required."

"Beltrami County is a strong supporter" of the shooting sports park, said Airport Authority Commissioner Joe Vene, also a Beltrami County commissioner. "It (the shooting club) will be out there. It will take some time to produce a good product."

Smith said he hopes funding can be found for the airport to purchase their club building. "We don't have a cash cow -- our investment is in that building."

Van Leeuwen said he has framed his request to both agencies, and to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District.