2015-12-25 / Front Page

Cape Elizabeth Gun Club reloads

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

The sign put up by Cape Elizabeth Police Chief Neil Williams at the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club July 24, announcing live fire had been suspended out of concerns for safety, shows the telltale signs Dec. 18 that conditions for reopening had been met. (Courtesy photo) The sign put up by Cape Elizabeth Police Chief Neil Williams at the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club July 24, announcing live fire had been suspended out of concerns for safety, shows the telltale signs Dec. 18 that conditions for reopening had been met. (Courtesy photo) CAPE ELIZABETH — It was the very first thing they did. And they didn’t mean it to be disrespectful, they say. They simply couldn’t help themselves.

On July 24, Cape Elizabeth Police Chief Neil Williams put up a sign at the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club, announcing he had ordered the suspension of live fire at the site until further notice.

On Friday, Dec. 18, with a letter in hand from code enforcement officer Ben McDougal authorizing reopening of the range, club president Tammy Walter and information officer Mark Mayone took the sign, attached it to a board, placed it at the end of the 25-yard firing line, and shot it full of holes.

Following a soft opening on Dec. 20 for the sizable cadre of volunteers who helped to make the licensing possible, Walter opened the pistol line to all 300- plus club members on Monday, Dec. 22.

“I'm grateful and thankful for our town that recognized our intense efforts and saw that we complied with everything they asked for,” she said. “All of this effort, time, money and emotion all stems from unsubstantiated safety issues.

That has always been the most painful part of this entire process.”

The Spurwink Rod & Gun Club has operated out of a valley off of Sawyer Road since 1954. However, what was then a rural area of far-flung farms 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 actual bullets coming from the nearby firing range. Chief Williams has said his officers were never able to prove just when three bullets found lodged in Cross Hill homes were fired, or that they came from the gun range.

Still, tensions continued to mount, with the council asked to play intermediary. Finally, in March 2014 the town council adopted a shooting range ordinance as part of a compromise measure. Although state law prohibits the town from taking action against an existing firing range based on noise – the real Oz behind the curtain, according to club members — it can impose rules based on safety concerns and regulate general operating guidelines. Among the ordinance provisions was the creation of a new firing range committee to oversee municipal licensing of the club for the first time, after six decades of operation. After months of debate, the committee voted 4-1 on June 8 to recommend to the town council that it grant the club an operating license. The lone dissenting vote was cast by the committee’s Cross Hill representative.

However, the committee recommendation was made with an ordinance-imposed deadline looming, and with the only safety report on hand a brief commissioned and paid for by the gun club before public review began. A third party report commissioned by Town Manager Michael McGovern, who initially had trouble finding anyone to do the job, was delivered in draft form July 23. The next day, based on what that report said, Williams shut down the club’s firing range.

The 19-page review was prepared by Rick LaRosa, of Keenesaw, Georgia. His architectural and engineering firm, R Design Works, found fault with the Spurwink club both in its firing line configuration, as it stood at the time, and a three-year improvement plan.

That report initially put issuance of the club’s operating license in doubt. However, at an Oct. 14 meeting, the town council voted unanimously to grant an operating license to the gun club, with the provision that live fire not resume until deemed safe by both LaRosa and McDougal.

At first it was unclear how long that might take. LaRosa said full implementation of his plan to make sure no bullet could ever leave the firing rage would cost close to $1 million. The price tag for fixing just the shortest 25-yard pistol line was pegged at “about $200,000.”

“This far exceeds anything any of our peers have had to build for outdoor safety,” Walter said at the time.

Even with a spate of fundraising, the club had less than $20,000 on hand, making the odds of reopening seem long at best.

But LaRosa’s job estimate had not included the possibility of donated materials and time, or even that he himself would pitch in.

“After our report resulted in the suspension of live fire, our firm volunteered 100 percent to donate our architectural design services to assist in creating a safe and professional club,” LaRosa wrote in a Dec. 18 letter to McGovern, in which he declared the 25-yard line “ready to reopen.”

The new line, which was once simply an area paced out in a open field before a shallow embankment, is now enclosed by 2 feet of concrete on either side. Above the line, a series of steel baffles are placed in a configuration known as “no blue sky”, such that while the line remains open to the elements, there is no place for a shooter to aim from the firing position that would allow a bullet to escape the line without first hitting one of the cross beams.

“Our neighbor’s concerns usually revolved around property value and quality of life,” Walter said. “Our state-ofthe art facility addresses both of those issues. We have addressed shot containment and acoustic concerns through design and engineering.”

In a Dec. 18 letter to McGovern, McDougal had met the strictures of the town’s new firing range ordinance with improved site access, maintenance procedures, and full shot containment to the property. As of Dec. 18, all that was left to do were what LaRosa deemed “a few minor improvements,” including installation of outdoor lighting and an exit sign in the newly contained firing area.

McDougal also certified the club's lead-management plan meets federal guidelines and the town's ordinance, based on a Dec. 11 report submitted by certified geologist Richard A. Sweet, of Falmouth.

Although McDougal ruled the club’s 50- and 100-yard firing lines are not yet ready for use under the terms allowed in the new town ordinance, LaRosa said use of air rifles on those lines should now be permitted.

For Walter, the town’s decisions caps months of uncertainly and years of conflict over the club’s continued operation, complaints she hopes will now subside so that the club members can resume enjoyment of their sport.

“I want to thank our members for their continued, consistent passionate support,” she said. “Our intention has always been to keep improving our range and I always believed that we were going to reopen stronger and better than ever and we have.”

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