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Township wants gun range remain closed pending evaluation

Kyle Moroney • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:10 AM

More than 80 residents of the Cutter Park subdivision, located along Ferris Street just east of the gun club, attended a Grand Haven Township Board work session Monday. They were there to get an update from the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department investigation from the Sept. 29 incident in which a contract worker was shot in the arm, and ask the elected township officials what they plan to do to help keep their families and their property safe from stray bullets.

Adam Twa moved into the subdivision during Labor Day weekend.

“To find a bullet in our house after living there for a month — it’s not right,” he told the Township Board. “... My daughter talks about bullets now. We shouldn’t be talking about this. We’re looking for those who are responsible to take responsibility. ... I’m not sure what the best resolution is, but I don’t feel — and my neighbors don’t feel — that the people who are responsible are taking the responsibility right now.”

Tom Foley, 12995 Blackhawk Drive, said he “truly believes” that the gun club wants to find a “proper solution” from having stray bullets hit their nearby subdivision.

“It’s a bullet — once it leaves the gun, they don’t know where they’re going,” he said. “Well, now we know where they’re going. They’re going in our homes and into our neighborhood.”

Township attorney Ron Bultje sent a memo to the Township Board members that outlined their various legal strategies should the issue go into litigation. Details of the memo were kept from the public — not to hide it from them, Bultje said, but because it discusses the township’s legal recourse, if needed.

Bultje explained that township officials, law enforcement officials and officials from the gun club are currently cooperating on finding a solution to the incident.

“We’re not trying to keep information from them because of authority,” Township Manager Bill Cargo explained to the Township Board and public. “But because, if they open up the rifle range, we might not be in a collaborative role, but in an adversarial role.”

The North Ottawa Rod and Gun Club has been open since the 1940s. Cutter Park subdivision began building in 1997. The subdivision has 171 lots with all but approximately 12 lots occupied with homes, according to Township Finance Director and Assessor Denise Chalifoux.

Cutter Park resident Jennifer Williams, 12875 Mariposa, said she had difficulty in saying what she had to say Monday night, as she is a member of the gun club. She believes the Sept. 29 incident was “100 percent an accident” — but said “the safety measures that are in place by the gun club are clearly not sufficient.”

Since the incident, questions have surfaced about the Cutter Park subdivision’s proximity to the gun club and why it was zoned as residential property.

“Zoning of the property is really irrelevant,” Bultje said. “If the property was zoned agricultural and a farmer was driving his truck on the property, he’s just as much at risk. ... It is not acceptable regardless of what the zoning is.”

Bultje will be drafting a letter to the gun club asking that the gun range to remain closed. The letter will also ask gun club officials that, if they decide to open the shooting range, an independent expert evaluate the design of the range and review the procedures in which law enforcement officials are using the range — as well as ask gun club officials if they are following standard operating procedures adopted by the state in regards to shooting range use.

“We are hoping to handle this collaboratively with the rod and gun club,” Cargo said. “We are expecting that they will keep the shooting range closed and we have some recommendations that we will offer to them. If they open the shooting range, the board was very clear that we will take some sort of legal action.”

The letter is expected to be sent to the gun club by Wednesday, he said.

“Everybody agrees that this is an unsafe situation,” Cargo said. “Everybody agrees that this is unacceptable. Everybody agrees that stray bullets or escaped bullets, or whatever you want to call these rounds found in (Cutter Park), is not acceptable. The question is, how do we move from this agreement — both by the gun club, by us, by everybody — that this is unacceptable, to finding a solution that can provide some assurance to the residents of the Cutter Park that this won’t occur in the future?”

Ottawa County Undersheriff Greg Steigenga said their investigation revealed that five Grand Valley State University police officers were conducting “close encounter drills” at the gun club’s shooting range on the day a contract worker in Cutter Park was hit in the arm. The team was under direction by a safety officer and an assistant safety officer.

Since the initial incident was reported to police, the Sheriff’s Department has discovered 10 other bullets within that subdivision.

Steigenga explained to the crowd packed into the Township Hall on Monday that they cannot reveal details of their investigation until the prosecutor’s review is complete. However, the Sheriff’s Department investigation showed that the “errant rounds” were caused by the placement of the targets used in the training exercise.

“We believe there is direct correlation with the exercise and the injury sustained, as well as the magnum of rounds found in the subdivision,” Steigenga said. “We feel very strongly that the placement of targets played a role.”

The Sheriff’s Department turned their investigation over to the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office last week.

“I do not see any reason that this pistol and gun range should be open — because obviously, when the pistol and gun range is open, bullets are escaping,”

Township Trustee Tom Jenkins said. “Until it is safe, it shouldn’t be allowed.”

Representatives from the gun club were invited to attend the Township Board’s work session on Monday, Cargo said, but were not present. Cargo said he was not surprised that they were not at the meeting due to the possibility of a legal suit with the township.

North Ottawa Road and Gun Club President Mark Welch is out of the country, an employee at his office said this morning.

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