2015-07-31 / Front Page

SHOT DOWN

Cape Elizabeth gun club on firing line
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Officials of the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club, including, from left, Treasurer Peter Darling, President Tammy Walter and Public Information Officer Mark Mayone, pose outside the club’s Sawyer Road firing range with cement blocks obtained from Auburn Concrete and Hissong Ready-Mix, to be used in building a system of shot containment at the open-air facility on Sawyer Road, in Cape Elizabeth. However, with a September licensing decision looming from the town council, the club has raised less than $1,000 toward the $90,000 need to get the blocks onto the range and complete a system of recommended safety improvements. (Duke Harrington photo) Officials of the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club, including, from left, Treasurer Peter Darling, President Tammy Walter and Public Information Officer Mark Mayone, pose outside the club’s Sawyer Road firing range with cement blocks obtained from Auburn Concrete and Hissong Ready-Mix, to be used in building a system of shot containment at the open-air facility on Sawyer Road, in Cape Elizabeth. However, with a September licensing decision looming from the town council, the club has raised less than $1,000 toward the $90,000 need to get the blocks onto the range and complete a system of recommended safety improvements. (Duke Harrington photo) CAPE ELIZABETH — It’s not often one sees the head of a gun club cry.

But on Tuesday, July 27, as Tammy Walter, president of the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club in Cape Elizabeth discussed recent events with her public information officer, Mark Mayone, her eyes began to well up.


Mark Mayone, past-president and current public information officer of the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club, supervises as club members work Monday to rebuild steps leading down to the club’s firing range on Sawyer Road in Cape Elizabeth. On Friday, the town ordered the range shut down following receipt of an independent safety report that declared the facility to be “minimally maintained.” (Duke Harrington photo) Mark Mayone, past-president and current public information officer of the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club, supervises as club members work Monday to rebuild steps leading down to the club’s firing range on Sawyer Road in Cape Elizabeth. On Friday, the town ordered the range shut down following receipt of an independent safety report that declared the facility to be “minimally maintained.” (Duke Harrington photo) “I’m sorry,” she said, as she daubed away a tear. “I can’t help it. It’s just not fair.”

On Friday, the town ordered a shutdown of the club’s firing range, located in a ravine off Sawyer Road, following receipt of an independent safety report that declared the open-air facility to be “minimally maintained.” With less than $1,000 raised toward a planned $90,000 site upgrade to ensure shot containment, and a Sept. 14 licensing decision due from the town council, Walter says the fate of the 61-year-old club hangs in the balance.

“We don’t bring in that much money,” she said. “It’s really critical at this time that we find someone to help us, or we might be in trouble.”

There has been a long-simmering dispute between the 61-year-old gun club and its neighbors in the nearby Cross Hill subdivision, a development of $500,000 to $800,000 homes that began to spring up in the 1990s. For residents, it’s a question of noise and, following a 2009 report of bullets found lodged in houses, safety. But for club members, the question of how to get along hinges on one key point:

“We were here first,” said Mayon.

Police Chief Neil Williams has said of the two bullets found in Cross Hill homes in 2009 (another was reported in 2005) that his officers were never able to determine the age of the ordnance, or the direction and distance from which they might have been fired.

For a time the issue seemed to die town, but then in 2012 local attorney Jamie Wagner, now a town councilor, tried to get the town to intervene on behalf of an unnamed Cross Hill client. Councilors finally took action in late 2013, after attempts to encourage a cooperative agreement proved fruitless.

That fall, the town council hired Kenneth Cole, of Portland law firm Jenson Baird Gardner & Henry, and charged him with interviewing leaders among the gun club and local residents, in hopes of brokering a compromise between the two groups. The end result was a shooting range ordinance adopted by the town council 6-0 in March 2014 — a vote from which Wagner was forced to recuse himself. The ordinance created a licensing requirement for shooting ranges and establishes a five-person committee to review applications. Although state law exempts the Spurwink club from noise restrictions due to its age, the local ordinance does rule over management practices, such as hours of operation and insurance coverage, as well as safety requirements.

As part of the new licensing requirement, the club had to submit to a safety inspection. The club had one in hand, but according to Town Councilor Caitlin Jordan, who chairs the shooting range committee, there was concern that report could have been biased, because the club commissioned it before passage of the ordinance.

After several months of working with the shooting range committee, the gun club filed its license application in April, beating an ordinance-mandated deadline by four days. That application included the older safety report, because an updated report was not yet in hand.

According to Town Manager Michael McGovern, he advertised locally for someone to prepare that report in January, but received no applications. Caught in a bind, McGovern accepted the recommendation of a Georgia-based range evaluator, submitted to him, he said, by John Lightle, manager of range services for the National Rifle Association. That evaluator, Rick LaRosa, of Keenesaw, Georgia firm R Design Works, was first contacted by McGovern in January, he said, but not officially hired in May, although he did visit the Spurwink club in April.

“No other qualifications were received in answer to the bid invitation,” McGovern said. “I chose Mr. Larosa to do the work as he has designed dozens of firing ranges in over 20 states.”

Meanwhile, on June 8, the shooting range committee deemed the club’s license application to be complete — despite the fact that LeRosa’s work was not yet finished — and voted 4-1 to recommend that the town council grant the license. Only Cathy Kline, a Cross Hill resident who, in the past has acted as public spokesman for the neighborhood, voted against the application.

“We didn’t have the safety evaluation when we made our decision, so we had to rely on the evaluation provided by the gun club,” Jordan said Tuesday. “After the club submitted its application, the ordinance required that we act within 30 days, and the rod and gun club would not waive that in order to allow the committee to wait for this safety evaluation to come back. So, we acted only on the information he had in front of us.”

LeRosa’s draft report was finally submitted to McGovern on Thursday, July 23. Although not final — there are several typos yet to be scrubbed, McGovern said — within 24 hours Chief Williams had ordered the firing range closed indefinitely.

The report notes that the Spurwink firing range “has no containment system in place.” Although sunk into a ravine, with the firing lines either level or angled downward, the 8.6-degree slope of the hill between the club and Cross Hill “is not significant enough to assure live-fire (or ricocheted-fire or fragmented-fire) does not create an unsafe condition to the surrounding properties and residence,” LaRosa wrote.

The report also recommends completing an accurate topographic map, a comprehensive “range manual” of procedures, a narrower limit on firearms allowed at the range, and hiring a professional range engineer to redesign the site.

“Until the above steps are begun or implemented, we recommend the existing range discontinue use of any live fire,” LaRosa wrote.

Despite the shutdown, Walter and Mayone are complimentary of town officials.

“Everyone from the town has been exceptionally professional and very neutral,” Mayone said. “Although I have been frustrated with some of the decisions made, I have no sense that anyone from the town has any ax to grind against the club whatsoever.”

“I have the most respect for Chief Williams and everyone from the police department,” Walter said. “Our only concern is that our club was evaluated to a standard that we feel was unreasonably high.

“No organization can compare favorably when audited against an ideal,” she said. “We feel that, while the Georgia-based inspector raises some valid concerns, he has surpassed a standard of reasonableness. Safety is more than infrastructure, it is a set of habits and procedures by its members. Ultimately, any club is only as safe as its members conduct themselves. The Spurwink Rod & Gun Club has a 61-year history of safety and previously passed inspections. When the range is used as intended, we have shot containment.”

Mayone says renovations at the range, part of a modernization effort underway for several years, are now 60 percent complete, but full implementation of a so-called “noblue skies” system that will prevent anyone from pointing a firearm over the hillside is “at least three years away.”

Walter said the club has spent $38,000 in the last year on modernizing the range, plus an additional $22,000 on club improvements. However, that money has come largely from a $28,000 state grant obtained last year.

“Most of our members are just ham-andeggers. We’re a very blue collar club,” Mayone said. “Now, we need to do a lot of work very quickly, and we are going to need a lot of financial resources very quickly.”

The club has established a fundraising page to help complete safety improvements at its firing range, located on Sawyer Road in Cape Elizabeth. That effort has raised just $830 from 13 people toward its $90,000 goal in the three months since its inception.

On Tuesday, Walter met with Williams and McGovern.

“Our goal is that we have the safest shooting range possible,” Walter said. “We just need to figure out a way forward.”

However, that said, she can’t help but lay blame for the club’s current travails on Cross Hill residents.

“This has nothing to do with safety, or even noise,” she said. “The fact is, they won’t be happy, and will not stop until we are gone.”

Upcoming meetings

Aug. 10 — Rick LeRosa of Georgia-based R Design Works, a firing range expert endorsed by the National Rifle Association, will present his evaluation of the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club to the Cape Elizabeth Town Council. That report was the basis of July 24 order that shot down the club’s Sawyer Road firing range. (7 p.m. at town hall.)

Sept. 14 — The Cape Elizabeth Town Council will conduct a public hearing on a municipal licensing application submitted by the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club. A vote on the application is expected to take place immediately following the hearing, culminating a decade of conflict between the club and its neighbors in the nearby Cross Hill subdivision. (7 p.m. at town hall.)

FMI

With a September 14 licensing decision looming, the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club has launched a crowd-funding drive in hopes of demonstrating to the Cape Elizabeth Town Council that it has the financial resources needed to complete a recommended system of shot containment at its Sawyer Road firing range.

To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/rga- 2m5dg online.

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