Shooting Range

Dubuque County Sheriff Joe Kennedy gives a tour of the new law enforcement shooting range Sept. 31.

The new Dubuque County law enforcement shooting range is up and running.

The range at 20909 Millville Road southwest of Graf is a 100-yard-long rectangular indentation, walled by 20-foot berms on all sides, but for the vehicular entrance. At one end is a black backstop for targets. Concrete lines the range at regular intervals for training at different distances, including movable barricades.

As simple as that might seem, Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department officials said much of the final design for the range was developed to impact neighbors, wildlife and the environment as little as possible.

“Some of the neighbors weren’t real enthused about the idea,” said Sgt. Gary Pape on Monday.

Neighboring landowners spoke out against it at county meetings, then waged a legal battle over the plans. The concerns focused largely on the noise from target practice and the possibility of stray rounds escaping the confines of the range.

Pape said they hired an acoustical engineer to design the range with those concerns in mind.

Such a site only is required to have 10-foot berms on the sides and a 20-foot berm behind the backstop, allowing for a horseshoe shape. Instead, 20-foot berms now rise on all sides.

“We basically built a speaker that directs the sound up and away from our neighbors,” Pape said. “That’s why we have such high berms all the way around.”

Behind the backstop is a wooded hill, which Sheriff Joe Kennedy said almost certainly would knock down any other round that might escape.

“We overbuilt the range for safety and sound mitigation,” he said.

Features include the backstop, made of granulated rubber, which Kennedy explained was “chewed-up bits of tires.” That material solves several problems, including noise.

“When you’re shooting against a natural backstop, you have the sound of the round going off and the sound of the round striking something,” he said.

In addition to being easier on the ears, the material stops rounds from exploding on impact, “spraying lead dust everywhere,” according to Kennedy. That and the paved space 10 yards out from the backstop were designed for easier, less environmentally risky cleanup after training.

The total cost came to about $1.4 million, according to Kennedy. The County Board of Supervisors paid the upfront cost.

The sheriff’s department will reimburse the county over time out of its forfeiture fund. To date, Kennedy said, the county has been reimbursed $538,000.

Kennedy said his department also used forfeiture funds to purchase suppressors for rifles to be used at the range.

Between his department and the Dubuque Police Department, Kennedy said the range should be used 60 to 75 days per year.

Both Kennedy and Pape said that before the new range, departments were in a “transient training” situation, bouncing between quarries that would have them. Pape said a permanent home had been needed for a long time.