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Successful firing range cleanup gets statewide attention

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Oct 28 2020

Students fire their weaponsMore than six years ago, Southwestern Community College officials started looking into making necessary safety improvements at their firing range in Dillsboro.

Upon realizing the sheer volume of lead that had accumulated in more than 30 years of use – and the potential environmental impact – college officials contacted representatives from the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (now NC Department of Environmental Quality – or NCDEQ) for guidance.

The process took time and involved multiple rounds of testing, mitigation and enhancements, but the ultimate result has been an environmental success story.

Surface water sampling conducted prior to the beginning of the remediation process detected lead concentrations at over 20 times the state standard. The most-recent round of testing, conducted following the remediation activities, revealed that out of every one billion drops of water, just 3.2 drops contain lead. The state standard is 25 drops of lead per one billion drops of water.

Plus, ECS Southeast, LLP – the company SCC contracted to oversee the soil remediation project – received rare and high praise from state officials for its work at the college’s firing range.

“This project stands out because the NCDEQ really praised the cooperation of SCC and the work we did at ECS. You don’t hear that often,” said James Bevers, the environmental staff project manager from ECS Southeast, LLP. “One of the keys to this being successful is we had full and open communication from all parties: SCC, NCDEQ, ourselves and Jackson County. We all made sure we were on the same page, and SCC’s leaders always emphasized that they wanted us to follow the guidance of NCDEQ.”

Sampling of the nearby Tuckasegee River, where surface water from the firing range discharges to, did not detect lead prior to the beginning of the remediation process.

In addition, groundwater sampling conducted in the vicinity of the firing range detected lead at concentrations at approximately one third or less of the state standards.

New steps have been taken to minimize future environmental impact, and testing is ongoing.

 “From the beginning, we have relied on the experts at our state’s top environmental agency to help us determine next steps,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President. “We are thankful to our friends at NCDEQ and ECS Southeast for their insight and hard work, and I’m personally very pleased to know that ECS Southeast was nominated for the 2021 Engineering Excellence Awards through the American Council of Engineering Companies of North Carolina.

“I also want to thank the Jackson County Board of Commissioners for their support as we brought our firing range into compliance with state standards,” Dr. Tomas said.

The total clean-up cost to date has been $496,000, and another $370,466 has been set aside for enhancements and best practices for maintaining an outdoor firing range based on recommendations from DEQ and ECS Southeast.

More than a dozen local and state agencies use SCC’s firing range annually, and the college trains Basic Law Enforcement and National Park Service – Park Ranger Law Enforcement Academy recruits at the same location.

For more information about SCC and the programs it offers, visit www.SouthwesternCC.edu.