Fighting a war zone

Nikiski residents up in arms over unwelcome shooting range

Posted: Monday, August 23, 2004

If I wanted to live in a war zone, I'd move to Iraq. But I didn't have to do that.

Unfortunately, the war zone came to me and to many of my neighbors in Nikiski. We had no warning of it, until the shooting started, one weekend in July.

It's not as if Nikiski residents have never fired guns in our neighborhood; a lot of them do. But this was more than just a few guys drinking beer and blasting at targets. It went on for days, and all of one night, waking me up each morning to continuous bursts of rifle and machine gun fire. It was shock and awe, as if Baghdad had suddenly been relocated next door. And it has kept on going nearly every day since then.

The source of this unwelcome barrage of gunfire turns out to be an organization called Front Sight, headquartered in Las Vegas. They run a 550-acre resort near that city, catering to wealthy gun fanatics and featuring no less than 13 shooting ranges. They bill themselves as promoters of self-defense and soldiers in the war against crime. As such, they offer a program of firearms training courses for every kind of weapon. Their founder, a former chiropracter named Dr. Ignatius Piazza, started Front Sight in response to a gang shooting in his neighborhood. I guess he thinks this gives his organization the right to invade other peoples' neighborhoods and start shooting.

Nevada wasn't big enough for Front Sight. They decided to expand their operation to Alaska, and somehow selected Nikiski as the ideal sight for another resort. For this operation, they put forth a more wholesome, family-oriented theme, offering guided hunting and fishing trips, canoeing, rock climbing and a kids' day camp. All of which is hardly objectionable and wouldn't have caused much of a stir, but they had to include the shooting ranges along with it.

They quietly bought up 320 acres at the end of Eagles Avenue and obtained permits for the shooting ranges. The Alaska State Troopers and borough officials whom I contacted tell me this was legal because there are no zoning laws in this area to prevent such invasive land use. Maybe, being Outsiders, they just thought this was the pristine wilderness, in the middle of nowhere, and nobody would mind. But their location is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, and plenty of us do mind.

There may have been no law requiring Front Sight to inform their neighbors of their intention, but if they were truly the clean, up-front professional organization they claim to be, they would have at least had the common sense to meet with us and listen to our concerns. But they did no such thing. They just opened up and started shooting.

Their range is located less than 100 yards from several homes. The noise level is too loud to block out by closing the windows; it invades the airspace of everyones' living rooms. One resident tells me his windows rattle like an earthquake is shaking them, and bullets have gone whizzing over the front of his house. He and his family hesitate to step outside when the shooting is going on, for fear of catching one of those bullets in their bodies. His wife says she went onto Front Sight's property one day to complain and was met by a hostile man who told her to go obtain some sexual intercourse and mind her own business.

"I don't come to your house and ask if you're running a meth lab, do I?" he told her. Another neighbor says his kids are afraid to play outside, because of bullets flying through his yard. People living several miles away have complained about the noise. Most of us moved to this area for its atmosphere of peace and quiet and cannot believe it is legal for someone to violate that so blatantly.

Front Sight's Web site says they want to give their rich, trigger-happy clients a "quality Alaskan experience," but they don't care about destroying the quality of life for Alaska residents who live near their resort. They strongly support everyones' second amendment rights but disregard the right of ordinary people to have peace and quiet in a residential neighborhood.

They say they are making America safer, but having stray bullets flying through your front yard doesn't sound very safe to me. They claim to have a "friendly, professional staff" at their facility, but their response to my neighbor says otherwise. In all the wide open spaces of Alaska, they easily could have chosen a location far away from people's homes, but they did not. Apparently Alaskans are just third-world peons to them, and they don't want to hear our objections. And what, if anything, are they contributing to our community and economy? Their employees all come from somewhere else, and at the end of the summer they will take their profits back to Nevada with them. And this is not the end of it. Their plans for the resort call for "multiple shooting ranges." The shock and awe is just going to get worse. They seem to have plenty of money to throw around to get whatever they want.

Does this outrage you as much as it does me? I urge the residents of Nikiski to fight back. Let our representatives know that we don't want to live in a war zone, and keep the complaints coming. Squeaky wheels get the grease, after all. I also urge the residents of other communities to make their feelings known. Don't join Front Sight's club; don't support them financially. Don't plan on taking a vacation at their resort, and if you have relatives from the Lower 48 who want to visit, urge them to make reservations somewhere else. Front Sight, with their arrogant Imperialist attitude toward the people of Nikiski, is not an organization we want in our state.

Laura Faeo has been a Nikiski resident for 15 years and works at Kenai Peninsula College.

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