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Residents up in arms over gun range expansion

Issue is on Nicollet Co. board agenda Tuesday

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Veleda Cordes of rural Courtland poses with “Spitfire,” her Mustang (POA) Pony of the Americas horse in the family corral. Cordes is worried that an expansion of the gun club next to her farm to include a range for high-powered rifles will pose a hazard to her horses.

COURTLAND — Neighbors of the River Ridge Gun Club near Courtland are used to hearing shotguns sounding at the trap and sporting clays range and the pheasant hunting fields. They are not so sure about the crack of high-powered rifles on a range that the club’s new owner is planning.

Nicollet County commissioners are scheduled to consider an amendment to existing conditional use permits for the club that would include trap, long-range rifle, short-range pistol, sporting clays, a pistol target range, and an outdoor archery range at its meeting on Tuesday, July 28.

Enthusiasts of sporting clays and public and private pheasant and quail hunts may recall River Ridge Gun Club, located about a mile west of Courtland, that offered public, private and corporate hunts.

The gun club was recently acquired by Joe and Christine Michaletz of Michaletz Properties, LLC. Last week, the Mankato-based developers were unanimously granted an after-the-fact conditional use permit after they began earth work at the gun range last summer, over the objection of neighbors.

Neighbors objecting to the change have hired an attorney, Roger Hippert of New Ulm, to represent them.

At a June planning commission meeting hearing, according to background notes for Tuesday’s meeting, Christine Michaletz said the intention in buying the gun club property was to continue operation and expand it. She said they were contacted by many former River Ridge customers who would like to use the facility.

Michaletz said over the past year, they developed a plan to move forward in a way that allows them to maximize property use in a safe and controlled environment for public participating in shooting activities.

Proposed plans include gunsmith activities limited mostly to mounting scopes and gun cleaning. They would like to host smaller corporate events or fundraisers for about 40 people. Larger events would include shooting contests, tournaments or vendor-sponsored, shooting demonstrations.

Prior to the hearing, according to the notes, Wade and Veleda Cordes, who live next to the gun range, provided a written statement with concerns about stray bullets, noise, dust, traffic, speed limits, road damage and setbacks. In addition, Wade Cordes said the dead-end, single lane township road has many blind spots.

Cordes cited a June 19 letter from Thor Nelson of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that cited MN Statutes Sec. 97B.001 which reads “owners and guests on adjoining property cannot discharge firearms within 500 feet of a stockade/corral containing livestock without their permission, as long as it’s less an acre in size.

Hippert, who is representing residents opposed to the gun range permit, said Friday that according to the Cordes’ calculations, their corral is 375 to 400 feet from the gun range.

Veleda Cordes testified in the written statement she fears for her livelihood and the loss of their peaceful, quiet, country setting. She said rifle range noise would spook her horses and voiced concern about the alcohol sale and consumption.

“I love my horses. They’re the love of my life,” Cordes said in an interview this week. “I’ve seen them jump when they hear loud gunshots.”

Veleda Cordes questioned why neighboring landowners would have to pay for sound monitoring and mitigation? The Cordes said they believe the request will depreciate neighboring properties.

Several other neighbors have voiced similar concerns.

Christine Michaletz said range rules and regulations require guns to be unloaded, cased and locked in vehicles prior to alcohol consumption and that the facility would not be a bar. She said they have contracted for dust control.

She testified in June that the range will have safety officers on site who are required to obtain and maintain NRA (National Rifle Association) shooting range officer certification. Michaletz said plans and designs will make the facility as safe and controlled as possible.

David M. Gross of Faribault, co-author of Minnesota Statute Chapter 87A, aka the Shooting Range Protection Act (SRPA), said if the sound at the point of reception, a residence for example, meets state standards there is no legal issue. Gross said the standards require the scientific measurement of sound pressure according to methodology established by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Gross said activities and events expansion must be allowed according to the SRPA as long as the standards for sound limits and projectile containment are met.

Tim Gulden, who operates a 25-acre vegetable operation almost a mile from the gun range, said Friday that he’s concerned about a high-powered gun range operating nearby.

“Not long ago, I heard a bullet slam into a tree about 30 feet from where I was working. I almost was shot in my own field. I heard the bullet whistle past, impact the tree, then I heard the gun shot,” Gulden said. “We have young kids helping us pick vegetables. This is not a combination I want to have. I want this to be a safe area so I can keep a family farm in the works.”

Nicollet County Commissioner John Luepke said he “certainly understands the point of view of the people against it.”

“I consider this a more eminent threat to safety,” Luepke said. “It’s about safety, comfort and property rights. The Cordes want to ride horses. When a lot of guns start going off, it can be difficult.”

(Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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