2015-09-18 / Community

Cape council declines to pull trigger on gun club

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABTH — Following an hourlong public hearing Monday, Sept. 14, the Cape Elizabeth Town Council tabled a vote on whether to grant a license to the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club.

The club has operated out of a valley off Sawyer Road since 1954. However, what was then a rural area of far-flung farm homes has, in more recent years, become a bit of a boomtown.

The Cross Hill subdivision of high-end homes began to spring up in the 1990s and, by 2009, there were complaints of not just noise, but bullets coming from the nearby firing range.

In March 2014, the town created a shooting range ordinance as part of a compromise measure with the Cross Hill residents. Although state law prohibits the town from taking action against an existing firing range based on noise, it can act on safety concerns and general operating guidelines. A new firing range committee created by an ordinance voted 4-1 June 8 to recommend the town council grant an operating license to the 61-year-old gun club.

However, on July 23, the town ordered suspension of live fire at the gun club following submission of a report by Rick LaRosa, of Keenesaw, Georgia, whose architectural and engineering firm, R Design Works, has reviewed more than 50 firing lines in 20 states over the past nine years.

LaRosa’s 19-page report found significant deficiencies in the Spurwink firing range, both in its current configuration and in a three-year phased upgrade proposed by the club.

That report initially put issuance of the club’s operating license in doubt, although LaRosa since helped club members update their safety designs in order to prevent the accidental discharge of bullets out of the facility.

A capacity crowd packed town hall Monday night, leaving standing room-only, as those for and against the club tried to sway the council’s collective mind.

“This far exceeds anything any of our peers have had to build for outdoor safety,” club President Tammy Walter said of the LaRosa design.

Walter and club Vice President Mark Mayone argued for issuing a permit to re-open the club’s 25-year firing line, along with a phased-in approach to re-open longer target shots, as an overheard system of baffles is built to guarantee no bullets leave the range.

Amid that request, Mayone expressed frustration with the Cross Hill residents, whom he accused of conspiring to shoot the club down.

“I am completely disgusted with the actions of our neighbors toward our club members, and towards officials and employees of this town,” he said, turning to the audience to add, “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

“How many children and grandchildren, like my grandchildren, live within a 3-mile radius of the gun club?” asked Cross Hill Road resident William Morris, referencing LaRosa’s claim that bullets from the gun club could travel that far.

Morris then conjured up the image of such an errant bullet striking, maybe even killing, a young child.

“What disgusts me is that people have no feeling that this could happen. This could definitely happen,” he said. “We hired a professional. We should listen to the professional, not to the amateurs.”

That comment was a reference to the gun club’s own plan for safety upgrades, which it has said should cost about $90,000 to build. However, LaRosa has said full implementation of his recommendations for the site could top $1 million.

Although the council agreed to table a decision on the license until an Oct. 14 meeting, when prompted by Town Manager Michael McGovern to give attendees some idea of the council’s mood, councilors unanimously agreed they intend to issue some form of a permit at the October meeting.

“All Cape Elizabeth citizens have a right to feel safe, but I also feel the gun club has a right to exist,” Councilor Jessica L. Sullivan said.

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