Judy Hoffman has lived on the Millville Plains since the 1990s. She and her husband are deeply familiar with the flora and fauna of these rolling grasslands east of Palo Cedro, but they’ve never seen anything quite like the beast that emerged from the brush near Bear Creek two years ago.
It was a 600-pound black/grey razorback boar with fearsome tusks. Their six English Mastiffs gained control of the enormous hog and rolled it down the hill into the creek.
“None of my dogs got hurt, but the point was we couldn’t even use the creek for about two years because every time we were down there, the pigs were there, and they chase you, and they can run,” Hoffman explained.
As it turns out, the massive swine had strayed from its pen in the northeast corner of the 151-acre Millville Plains property where Shasta County District 4 supervisor Patrick Jones hopes to build the High Plains Shooting Sports Center. Through the internet, the Hoffmans learned that a hunting guide was charging $800 to hunt the boars on Jones’s property, where the hogs were housed in makeshift huts directly adjacent to Bear Creek.
“He [Jones] was raising these Russian hybrid boars down there and he was working with a guy who was like a tracker/trapper guy and that guy was advertising on the internet that he had these pig hunts out of here,” Judy Hoffman said. “Russian hybrid boars, they’re huge. If they’re just little wild pigs, you don’t care, they don’t get that big. We’ve never had wild pigs out here, they were mostly eradicated a long time ago.”
The Hoffmans were among more than a dozen Millville Plains landowners who met with A News Café at the site of Jones’s proposed gun range late last Friday afternoon. All of them live on property immediately next to the gun range or one or two parcels over.
At the regular meeting on Tuesday, May 16 at 5:30 p.m., the Shasta County Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to approve a zoning change that will permit Jones’s ambitious gun range project to go through.
Jones is requesting that the property, which is currently zoned as Limited-Residential combined with Mobile Home and Build Site 40-Acre Minimum Lot Area (R-L-T-BA-40), be re-zoned as a Commercial Recreation (C-R) district.
Most of the Millville Plains landowners have been here long before Jones bought his parcel in 2010. The Dials, who own property northwest from the proposed gun range, have been there for more than 44 years.
“My concern is property values are going to tank,” Elizabeth Dial said. “No reasonable person wants to live next to a gun range. I can’t find any buyers, I have tried.”
Frank and Anne Banuelos moved to Millville Plains in 1993. If the gun range is approved, Anne believes the noise will eventually force them to move.
“My husband Frank is a Vietnam veteran who has been diagnosed with PTSD,” Anne said, her voice trembling with emotion. “If this goes through, we will probably have to go live in a retirement home, and I don’t know what to do.”
Tracy Verhougstraete, a registered veterinarian technician, lives with her husband and their 7-year-old daughter on a small family farm they purchased in 2007. They have beef cattle, dairy goats, and horses. Their property butts up to the north side of Jones’s proposed gun range. Part of their property is directly in the line of fire of the proposed project’s 1000-yard shooting range.
“The area where they’re going to be shooting, especially the rifle, the long shot, shoots down to the bottom corner of our property,” Tracy said. “It’s one of the only areas on our property that has trees and our horses and cattle like to go under the trees. It’s not military professionals who are going to be shooting, it’s going to be people sighting in their guns, or people honing their skills and at that kind of range a little bit off is a lot off.”
“I also travel down this fence line,” she said, indicating the fence that divides their property from Jones’s and runs from where she was standing to Bear Creek a half-mile away, the only 24/7 water supply in the area.
“Halfway down is where our watering trough is for our horses and cattle. The skeet and trap shooting is going to be along here. They [her livestock] can easily be peppered with shotgun pellets.”
She’s not making it up. More than any other property, Tracy’s is in the line of fire. Frank Banuelos told of an early encounter with Patrick Jones, shortly after Jones purchased the property in 2010.
Frank saw Jones enter the proposed gun range property with a rifle and a target. Jones set the target up and started shooting, with no backdrop, and Tracy’s house 1000 yards due north, the direction Jones was firing. Frank screamed at him.
“When he came up, I said, ‘What are you trying to do, kill somebody?’”
“Oh no no no no,” Jones allegedly said.
“You’re shooting right towards our neighbor over there,” Frank told Jones. “You have no backstop. You have nothing. Put something back there, hay, this and that, to stop the round.”
Jones took Frank’s advice. Today there’s a 5-foot-tall berm constructed of dirt and railroad ties in the same place where that target was. The railroad ties are all shot to hell. Tracy hears the shooting like it’s right outside her window because, well, it is. It’s the only backstop on the property where Jones’s pig hunts have been happening for the past three years.
The High Plains Shooting Sports Center will basically put all the landowners who met with A News Café in the crosshairs, either directly from the various gun ranges pointing in their general direction, or indirectly, from the stresses put on the environment by a dramatic influx of humans into the area entailed by the gun range’s busy schedule of competitive shooting events and everyday operations.
The local landowners unanimously agreed that they’d received short notice about Jones’s ambitious plans, if they received any notice at all. One owner showed me a notification letter with no return address.
“I think a lot of us didn’t realize it was even happening,” said one woman who requested anonymity but spoke for the group. “When it was approved by the planning commission three weeks ago, barely any of us heard that and all of a sudden it’s almost too late to do anything about it. Jones got 10 years and we got three weeks.”
“We have three addresses; we didn’t get a letter,” said Judy Hoffman. She and her husband came to the Millville Plains 25 years ago; they now raise show goats, 200 Boer goats that graze on pastures within hearing distance of the proposed gun range.
“My concern is the noise level,” Hoffman said. “How far the noise travels here. How it’s going to impact the grazing animals that are out here. They graze down to where the fire risk is minimal. But if there’s a shooting range, they’re not going to want to come near there. We can turn them loose but they’re going to be as far away as possible. So there’s going to be more fuel than ever before, which is scary at best if it ever gets going.”
Tracy Verhougstraete predicted noise pollution from the proposed gun range would have the same effect on local wildlife populations, which include significant numbers of bald eagles.
“They talked in the initial reports about wildlife coming back at night because everything shuts down,” she said. “But they never addressed the fact that people are going to be camping here. It will never be totally quiet, and the animals won’t necessarily be coming back. Once they’re scared off, and it keeps happening over and over, they’re going to stop coming back.”
Dennis Patterson, a solar power contractor who has provided services to several of his neighbors, questioned whether the work proposed by Jones can be conducted, given the area’s environmental sensitivity. He also noted that most of the studies included in Jones’s proposal are seriously outdated.
“All of the darker colored areas are wetlands, the thatched areas are vernal pools or streams,” Patterson said, pointing to a map of the project. “These lines here are the setback requirements required by the state for these sensitive areas. Everywhere that has this clouding is where they can’t disturb the soil. So how are they going to build that if they can’t get tractors or people in to do that? You can’t walk in it, you can’t travel in it.”
“If you look at the mitigated negative declaration, it was started in 2013, ten years ago,” Patterson continued. “Ninety percent of all the special studies, road, noise, wetlands, all that, are from that era. Nothing is current. The most recent one is about seven years old. The traffic study was 10 years ago. The traffic has changed dramatically on Dersch Road. There are more log trucks than ever before now.”
“The studies are so old they don’t pertain in some cases,” Patterson concluded. “Everything should be fresh. A lot of these reports are stale. They should be current.”
Trumping concerns about declining property values and fleeing livestock and wildlife populations was the primal fear of wildfire on the wind-whipped Millville Plains should the gun range project be approved.
“As everybody has said, I have major concerns with the fire danger out here,” said Jennifer Lampracht, who worries that red flag warnings won’t be enforced at the gun range. “In the summertime, the wind kicks up here big time. We have serious wind issues. I feel what would be considered a red flag warning for the entire county, they’re not going to issue one for just this area.”
“I’m concerned for the safety of my family when we’re accessing this portion of our property,” said Tracy Verhougstraete. “I’m concerned for my animals, and obviously, I’m concerned if there is a fire. If people are camping, the RV parking spot is right here, how do 200 to 500 people get out—and I’m stuck behind them?!”
“People who aren’t used to living in a wildland fire area, a high-risk area, they don’t know,” Elizabeth Dial said. “It could be something as simple as sparking off a rock, that has started many fires out here.”
A pig problem
“I wanted to talk to you about the pigs,” said another woman who requested anonymity.
Turned out that Frank Banuelos, the Vietnam vet who lives on the south side of Jones’s proposed gun range and observes the supervisor’s comings and goings on Dersch Road, knew the most about Patrick’s pigs.
“Because I live next to him, I saw him bringing those pigs in,” Frank said. “I asked him, ‘Do you know anything about pigs?’ He said no. I said, well I do. What you got to do is build a concrete floor that’s 12 x 12 and you only put in two pigs. You got to put main poles that are four inches or wider and fill them with cement all the way around. The crossbars you got to put four or five crossbars out of three-inch pipe. My uncles used to raise them.”
“But Jones didn’t do that!” Frank said. “They kept getting out, going into my pasture, tearing the hell out of my pasture!”
After Jones’s hogs had repeatedly trashed his pasture, Frank called the SPCA. An animal control officer came to the scene, sized the situation up, and told Jones he was responsible for the damage. A couple of days later, Jones comes to Frank’s house with a 50-pound sack of seed.
Jones held out the sack.
“Aren’t you going to plant it?” Frank asked.
“No,” Jones said, leaving Frank holding the bag.
“I said, ‘Get out of here!’ but he left the sack there, so I had to plant the damn things because my pasture was torn up. They like to get grubs with their tusks, they rip it up.”
That’s the story, according to Frank and the Millville Plains landowners anyway. Patrick Jones has so far not replied to A News Café’s queries. This reporter got the impression Jones wasn’t a great neighbor. He’s the kind of guy who raises wild baby pigs in an above-ground swimming pool and laughs when you complain about the stink.
The gate to Jones’s property was unlocked. The red clay road was still soaked from the recent rains, as was the entire gun-range property, turning it into a genuine wetlands in some portions. The aforementioned target berm seemed too small in passing. At the end of the road was an unlocked orange gate.
Behind the gate was Patrick’s pig farm. Or rather his canned ham hunting operation. There were a half-dozen makeshift huts; tiny homes big enough for Russian hybrid boars, if that’s what they really were. Two enormous water tanks.
No pigs were present. Just a large, dilapidated shed, a couple of water tanks, wood pallets and other refuse, all of it on a downslope right next to Bear Creek.
It wasn’t too hard to imagine the pig shit flowing downhill into the creek.
You won’t find Patrick’s pig farm mentioned in the environmental studies in his proposal.
Perhaps they missed it.