BLOUNTVILLE — In order to keep its 263 officers certified under state guidelines, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office needs a new firing range by April or so, Sheriff Jeff Cassidy said.
For about 15 years, the sheriff’s office has had a firing range and training facility at the landfill off Highway 394 in Blountville. The county once owned the land and sold it to a developer who first announced plans in 2006 to expand a landfill.
The business came to be Eco-Safe, and it allowed the sheriff’s office to continue using the existing firing range and training facility the county had built there.
In 2020, the landfill was purchased by Waste Management, Cassidy said, and he was notified last October that would mean no more access to the firing range.
Waste Management has a nationwide policy of no firearms on its properties, Cassidy said he was told, and the sheriff’s office originally was told to vacate the property by Dec. 31, 2020.
Cassidy said he sent a letter to Waste Management.
“I told them we’ve got to have training,” Cassidy told the Sullivan County Commission. “If I have 158 certified personnel without mandated firearms training, they’re no longer certified, and we’re not going to have police to patrol the streets.”
Waste Management responded by extending the deadline until Dec. 31 of this year, Cassidy said, and he’s been working since to develop a plan for a new firing range.
Waste Management has allowed the sheriff’s office continued access to the outdoor firing range but hasn’t allowed officers to use the training facility, Cassidy said.
The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office isn’t the only local agency that uses the firing range to keep officers certified under Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) guidelines required by the state. Cassidy said his training also is held for county constables, reserve officers, Northeast State’s security force, the Tri Cities Airport’s security officers and the Bluff City Police Department.
The 158 figure Cassidy mentioned is for patrol officers. Another 105 officers work in the jail and also must be certified, Cassidy said.
Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable helped identify county-owned land on a hillside across Massengill Road from the Sullivan County Animal Shelter as a proposed site for a new firing range and facility, Cassidy said.
Sullivan County Commissioners Gary Stidham and Angie Stanley presented a resolution on first reading last month asking the county commission to OK earmarking up to $1 million of federal relief money to build the new firing range and training center.
Cassidy himself said a lot of materials and work already have been donated for the project and he would guesstimate the actual cost at maybe $475,000. Chad Baker, of Baker Construction, donated preliminary grading of the new site which Cassidy estimated would have cost the county $50,000 otherwise.
Cassidy said he’s spoken with every property owner with land adjoining the proposed site, and he personally stood outside the animal shelter, with county personnel, while deputies shot some test rounds at the proposed new site. Cassidy said the worker at the animal shelter was surprised how little sound traveled to the shelter.
Cassidy noted if the project moves forward, the sound would be even more muffled once berms are constructed on three sides of the firing range area.
Stidham said he has been assured by the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service that the project will qualify for use of relief money meant to offset economic loss suffered by the county during the pandemic. Stidham said about $6.6 million of the $30.7 million Sullivan County will receive falls in that category, and there are fewer restraints on how it may be spent.
Some commissioners rehashed details of the original proposal to sell the land to the developer of the landfill, which included Eco-Safe paying the sheriff’s office $500,000 to help build a new firing range and training facility. That clause ultimately didn’t make it through final negotiations.
County Attorney Dan Street said the county did get $1 million from its sale of land to the developer and has gotten everything it was entitled to under the final contract. Street said the sheriff’s office has no claim to remove the buildings or other improvements to the firing range on Waste Management’s property.
Commissioners Todd Broughton, Hershel Glover and Dwight King voiced opposition to a resolution being brought for a vote until the county has definite direction from the federal government on whether the project can be funded with the relief money.
Venable said any of the commission’s three primary committees could call a special meeting if they wanted to discuss the issue more prior to a vote. None has done so. The resolution is on the commission’s monthly agenda this week. The commission is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Thursday on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.