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Nicollet Co. commissioners OK gun range permit

COURTLAND — By a 3-2 vote Tuesday, Nicollet County commissioners approved an amendment to existing conditional use permits that would include trap, long-range rifle, short-range pistol, sporting clays, a pistol target range, and an outdoor archery range at the former River Ridge Gun Club near Courtland.

Commissioners John Luepke and Denny Kemp cast dissenting votes on the measure that allows the project to move forward. The measure includes additional conditions of not allowing shooters to drink alcohol prior to or during shooting, setting a .39 caliber gun limit and directing county staff to address black powder guns.

Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to consider more definitive conditions for black powder guns to be allowed on the range. That resolution will be considered at an Aug. 25 county board meeting.

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.

“We’re very pleased with the vote only because it allows us to move forward with the hard work we’re doing, being responsible in developing our operating plan,” said Christine Michaletz after the board vote.

At a June planning commission meeting hearing, 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.

Proposed uses include a trap field and sporting clay course for shotguns. In addition, long-range rifles, short-range and target pistols, outdoor archery events, classroom instructional training, and an indoor shooting simulator.

Building plans include a 75 x 110 foot clubhouse, 24 x 44 foot carriage house, picnic, archery, short-range pistol and target pistol shelters.

Michaletz said a lead reclamation vendor will prepare an environmental stewardship plan and they have identified a range noise mitigation company, Troy Acoustics.

Nicollet County Property Services Director Mandy Landkamer said the Michaletzes would have to pay for a noise study to be done by a commercial company if a neighbor complains to the county about gun range noise. She said the county has no noise ordinance but Minnesota Pollution Control Agency noise standards would be used for such issues.

Eight people made comments, limited to three minutes, before commissioners discussed related issues.

New Ulm attorney Roger Hippert, hired by Wade and Veleda Cordes, who lived next to the gun range, presented a letter from a University of Oklahoma doctor about the effects of gunfire on horses.

“The gun range permit allowed only shotguns in the past because that limited noise and danger.

“Allowing this permit would substantially change the quality of life for the Cordes’ who live within 500 feet of the range,” Hippert said. “If 150 shooters a day fire 30 rounds each, that’s 4,500 shots a day. The Cordes have four horses they wouldn’t be able to keep. Take a hard look at this issue.”

Tim Gulden, who grows vegetables about a mile from the range, said he’s concerned about the 15 to 20 youths he hires to help him garden each summer and that he’s like not to get shot himself.

Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School Principal Tim Plath is not as close to the range as some of the others, but said he’s concerned about safety.

“I ask you to keep the safety of our students, staff and faculty in mind,” Plath said.

“I’ve lived in my home for 45 years. I don’t want to be shot at,” said Brenda Gulden. “It seems there’s a whole lot of rushing and hushing going on. I believe we should take a step back. I have a problem with high-powered guns. Is there a study we can see?”

Veleda Cordes said she’s concerned about the velocity and sheer amount of bullets.

“With only 75 shooters a day, that’s almost 4,000 rounds. It would be like a war zone,” Cordes said. “I have no problem with clays. This can cause ulcers and colic in horses. This will force us to move. I don’t believe they should be able to take our property rights away to make money.”

Joe Michaletz said he’s concerned about doing things right.

“You’ll rarely ever see a safer rifle range,” Michaletz said. “If bullets leave the range, they’ll go into a gravel pit. The Cordes’ corral is way more than 500 feet away. We had it measured. We’re working with the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and others including noise professionals.”

He said safety and noise are his top priorities and he’s creating an environmental stewardship plan.

Christine Michaletz said a lot of misinformation has been presented.

“We want to operate this under high standards,” she said.

Courtland Township Supervisor Jason Schroeder said the road to the range is “not in the best shape, not wide.”

“The applicants applied dust control. We’d like to limit speed,” Schroeder said. “We feel the road needs work. No bids have been accepted at this time.”

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

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