Thursday, July 10, 2008

Berrien County Residents: Gun range should stay idle

Top Stories for Wednesday, July 9th:

Ken Sparks, lawyer for Coloma Twshp., explains the township’s legal situation Tues. night regarding the Berrien County law enforcement gun range along Angling Road. More than 100 people attended a public hearing at Coloma Township Hall on the gun range, and most seemed to think it should stay closed. The Mich. Supreme Court recently ruled that the county must comply with township ordinances before shooting could take place. Herald Palladium

Gun range should stay idle

COLOMA — Citizens jammed the Coloma Township Hall on Tuesday night to express their opposition to any step Berrien County might take to reopen the shooting ranges at its training facility.

“The county doesn’t care about us and it’s very obvious,” said Rodney Krieger, a former township supervisor. “We don’t owe them a thing. It’s not our obligation to provide them with a gun range.”

Krieger’s comments at a special Coloma Township Board meeting seemed to summarize the sentiments of many in the crowd of more than 100 people.

George Schemenauer, Co­loma Road North, pointed out that the township is home to more gun ranges than parks.
“I hope this board stays unanimous not to support this gun range,” said Schemenauer, a retired sheriff’s deputy.
Township resident Paul Fri­day said the training facility as originally proposed “didn’t bother me,” but “it escalated.” The board hosted the meet­ing to provide information about a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that led to an or­der that halted shooting at the county shooting ranges off Angling Road.
The court in a unanimous decision in June held that the county could use its training building but was required to comply with township ordi­nances before shooting could take place on the five outdoor ranges.
The ruling reversed an ap­peals court decision that said the county, under state law, did not need to comply with town­ship zoning and anti-noise or­dinances. The case originated in Berrien County Trial Court when a group of township res­idents filed suit to stop shoot­ing.
In light of the Supreme Court ruling, the sheriff’s de­partment complied with the township’s order to cease out­door shooting at the facility, which went into use in Octo­ber and cost more than $800,000 to build.
The county developed the range to provide a place for sheriff’s officers and police from other departments to shoot pistols and other fire­arms.
The outdoor range, pro­tected by 30-foot-tall earthen berms, also provides a place for the Tactical Response Unit

Dale Noack, 9, tells those gathered Tuesday night in the Coloma Township Hall about how he can’t ride his pony on his parents’ farm near the Berrien County law enforcement gun range because the pony gets spooked by gunfire.

to practice.
The firearms training facili­ty is on land leased from Land­fill Management Co., which owns all the surrounding prop­erty
and nearby Orchard Hill Landfill.
Berrien County officials have not asked Coloma Town­ship for a zoning variance or special use permit. For that reason, township officials had nothing to discuss or act on Tuesday night.
“We currently have no pro­posal from the county,” said township attorney Ken Sparks. “We don’t know if they will be coming to the township with one. That’s all speculation.”
Sparks said the “ball is in the county’s court,” and since township officials don’t know what form a request might take, no board action is need­ed.
Asked by a citizen why the township should consider any
county proposal, Sparks said the law requires it.
If a request is made, he said, “the township has to give it due process.”
Township Supervisor Ken­neth Parrigin told the crowd that any request from the county will involve a public hearing at the township hall, and citizens would get plenty of advance notice of the date.
Several people complained about an increase in shooting noise at the Coloma Rod and Gun Club on Mountain Road. With ranges closed at the county training facility, an agreement is being worked out to allow sheriff’s deputies to conduct pistol qualification shooting at the club.
Contacted after the meeting, Sheriff Paul Bailey said the agreement has not been fin­ished and no deputies have used the club for shooting. The club is used by members and the state police, Bailey said.