CHICAGO (STMW) – Bird watchers and other naturalists were unable Thursday to shoot down a deal for the Chicago Police Department to build a firing range near marshland on the Southeast Side.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago voted 7 to 2 to allow the city to lease its 33-acre landfill property at 2025 E. 134th. The police department must still negotiate a lease and obtain zoning approval from the city, which could take months, officials say.

The $2.5 million, 40-person shooting range will be used by Chicago Police officers, retired Chicago Police officers and suburban departments.

Tom Shepherd of the Southeast Environmental Task Force was among wildlife advocates who asked the water-district board to encourage the police department to look at other locations for a gun range. He suggested nearby contaminated properties such as one formerly owned by Wisconsin Steel.

Shepherd expressed concern that noise from the shooting would negatively affect herons, egrets and other birds that roost near the proposed firing range.

Debra Shore, a water district commissioner, voted against leasing the property to the police department, saying she didn’t think the city did enough planning beforehand. She was worried about the impact of the noise not only on wildlife but on thousands of people expected to walk on trails near the Ford Calumet Environmental Center that the city is building in nearby Hegewisch Marsh.

Commissioner Frank Avila also voted no, saying the water district should hold off on leasing the property to the city until a study of the impact of the noise on nearby wildlife is completed.

But board president Terrence O’Brien said he supported the project, which will allow officers to train outdoors in the same weather conditions they face on the street, instead of inside a building.

Chicago Police Lt. Ray Hamilton addressed concerns about the noise levels, saying 20-foot earthen walls will dampen the sound of gunfire. Altgeld Gardens, a city housing project about a mile away, will have no noticeable increase in noise because of the range, he said.

Hamilton also said he did not believe the range would have an impact on the migratory birds who inhabit the area. Still, he promised the city would conduct continuing studies on the impact on wildlife after the range is opened.

The local alderman, John Pope (10th), and Fraternal Order of Police Mark Donahue, both have expressed support for the range.

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