Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Gun Club Ordered Closed

May be reopened if renovated and supervision and operation improve

A St. Croix County Judge has determined that "The use of firearms at the [Central St. Croix Rod and] Gun Club[, Inc.] Property have repeatedly trespassed on the property of the individual plaintiffs" and has "unreasonably interfered with the individual Plaintiffs' use and enjoyment
of their property."

Moreover, the order by Judge Eric Lundell states that "the continued use of firearms at the Gun Club Property as currently configured and operated is sufficiently probable, indeed likely, to result in future trespass and nuisance causing Plaintiffs irreparable harm."

Therefore, Judge Lundell ordered "All use of firearms at the Gun Club Property is prohibited until further Order of this Court," and added conditions to insure that Gun Club members are aware of the order.

The Gun Club is located in the Town of Eau Galle along USH 63 about one-half mile south of CTH N.

According to Barry Serier, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Gun Club, he testified about numerous bullets and shot that was leaving the Gun Club property. He said one of his great uncles had bullets in the walls of his house. Another great uncle also had bullets in outbuildings and was chased off his own property by trespassers. He said trespassers on his land chased his kids off his land.

The Gun Club "was shut down by the court," said Serier. "It can be reopened if they can prove that it can be done safely to the court and plaintiff's satisfaction. We knew there would be a lot of talk and we don't want to be labeled as anti-gun people, but we do want to use our property as we see fit-without fear of being hit by projectiles from a neighboring facility.

"It's just disheartening for us to have to go through this, but we had to do it to protect our families," said Serier.

At the court hearing Serier said he brought many recovered bullets from his field northeast of the Gun Club.

Serier said the lawsuit filed by himself and others, including the organization Citizens for a Safe and Peaceful Eau Galle and Rush River Township, Inc., was their last resort. They had been to the County Zoning Department, which had issued a permit for a trap range at the site. "I really think they had good intentions," said Serier about the individuals who wanted the trap range. "But there were no restrictions placed on them." He added that they next went to the Town Board and the Sheriff's Department because of trespassers, night time shooting and unsupervised shooting, but received no satisfaction. "So we had exhausted our options.

"People started to converse and found out they were not the only ones: neighbors had bullets in their buildings, bullets whistling by them," said Pastor John Hanson who lives about three-quarters of a mile from the range. "Individuals were told to restrict their actions on their own property."

In total, about 12 people in the area had near-misses from direct bullet fire, said Serier, six properties were struck by projectiles, several homesites, and one home. A quick discovery survey by the Citizens found over six hundred projectiles that had left the Range.

Serier said there was alcohol used at the site, and on one occasion he was there, garbage cans were overflowing with garbage and beer cans. In one instance there was a person with an automatic weapon spraying bullets at a hillside.

Pastor Hanson said Citizens for a Safe and Peaceful Eau Galle and Rush River Township, Inc. was formed by more than a dozen neighbors of the shooting range, most of whom are close neighbors. He said there are also many other supporters of the group's efforts, although they are not members.

"I got involved when an elderly lady called one day and reported that there was a lot of activity going on and I feel unsafe," said Pastor Hanson. "Another part of that was due to bullet strikes at their homes."

Among the efforts the plaintiffs in the lawsuit took was to hire a ballistics expert and arrange for an on-site visit.

The Gun Club is on an 11.54 acre parcel, said Serier, which when land is subtracted for the driveway and right-of-way gives about 10 acres and about four acres are actually used for shooting. The lineal dimensions, as per the gun club's own testifying expert, are too short to contain their shotfall zones and safety zones. This expert stated under oath that this physical limitation is a safety issue.

Pastor Hanson explained that the berm is not properly constructed and allows for bullets to skip out of the range since there is no overhead baffling in addition to the berm.

In addition to ordering that all use of firearms at the Gun Club property is prohibited, Judge Lundell said signs shall be posted at the property stating the prohibition, that written notice will be provided to all Gun Club members and that the lock be changed on the gate.

The Court's order provides that the Gun Club may move to lift the injunction "by presenting a plan to physically renovate the Gun Club property and make all other necessary changes, including changes to the operation and supervision of the Gun Club property, to ensure that all shot, bullets, and other projectiles are maintained on the Gun Club property." The plan, wrote Judge Lundell, must include: "(1) drawings by a professional engineer or its equivalent with firearms range design experience, (2) cost estimates, by range; and (3) three-dimensional (CAD) renderings of the plans."

The plans must include "(1) physical design, including perimeter control; and (2) operational controls, including on-site supervision."

"Gun Club shall not be permitted to resume use of firearms until the Court approves the plan and the physical renovations are complete and the Court inspects and verifies that the plan is fully implemented."

The order by Judge Lundell also contains a schedule for presenting the Gun Club's plans to plaintiffs and to the Court, and a schedule for evidentiary hearings "regarding whether the Gun Club's plan ensures that all shot, bullets, and other projectiles are maintained on the Gun Club

The order says that if the Gun Club does not present a plan to the Court and plaintiffs by April 15, 2008 or does not prevail at the evidentiary hearing, "this injunction shall become permanent."

The Gun Club was ordered to provide the plaintiffs' attorney with proof of insurance.

The "plaintiffs are entitled to an award of statutory costs and disbursement," the order states. Serier estimates that amount may be in the range of $20,000, which is but a small fraction of the costs that have been incurred to bring the lawsuit, he said.