Township wants gun range remain closed pending evaluation

Township officials are requesting the North Ottawa Rod and Gun Club to have an independent evaluation of the design of its shooting range following a shooting accident two weeks ago.
Kyle Moroney
Oct 13, 2011

 

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.

Comments

boomer13

If ya don't like the smell of cows don't move in next to a farm. Same thing with the gun club they knew it was there before they built the houses. Gun club was there first. Just my opinion.

calvin

That is the dumbest statement I have heard. So, let me get this straight....whoever owned the land before Cutter Park turned into a subdivision did not have a right to either build a house there or subdivide it for others to build?!! The point is that the gun club DOES NOT OWN the land, no matter who lives there or when they moved in. Therefore, they have the responsibility to make sure that the bullets stayed within the gun club's property. The gun club doesn't get to use its land and then everyone else's land around it. I'm all for the right to own a gun, and I can also say that most people I know who hunt or carry a gun accept that they have a responsibility to use it safely. Deer hunters can't stand on their property and shoot a deer that is on their neighbor's land without permission. The bullets need to stay on Gun Club property. The gun club just simply did not respect the property lines. And there are lots of little kids playing and riding bikes through there. They could have easily been shot. Last I checked, no one died because a cow stinks, and you cannot control air quality the same way you can control where you shoot a bullet. No one is whining that there is a gun club there....they just don't appreciate getting shot!

Boater

I think the Township zoning committee are the ones who made the error here. Obviously they did not thoroughly investigate whether it was appropriate or a hazard to give permits to build homes in that area. The buck stops with them. I think the homeowners and the Gun club both got the shaft.

angela2982

So you move into a subdivsion where you know lives a home with dangerous dogs. The dogs get out and maul your child. This is your fault cuz you knew the house had mean dogs???!! People really need to think before they post. This is a subdivision full of children. The question isn't whose right or whose wrong, it's how do we resolve this so EVERYONE is safe!!!!!!!

Say No To Tourist's

@angela. I dont agree with owning a dangerous dog, is there really a need? I do agree with the point your trying to make though. You are right this needs to be resolved so that everyone is safe :)

mike

Just because the Club has been there longer does not give them the right to "use" all the acres surrounding the property.

They need to stay within their own property lines like everyone else, especially due to the nature of the Clubs actives (shooting guns).

Say No To Tourist's

Undersheriff Greg Steigenga is doing his job, as he should. The 5 GVSU officers and safety officers should be held responsible for reckless discharge for a firearm causing serious injury. This is the second time a GVSU officer has discharged a firearm resulting in injury during the past year. Hopefully the prosecutor will feel the same. To bad the gun club has to feel the brunt of this from someone else's reckless act while on there property.

ohwell

Say No To Tourist's.....you say this is the second time a GVSU officer has discharged a firearm resulting an injury. Please explain the first time. If you are talking about the GVSU student that was shot during a drug raid. That was an undercover WEMET officer that did that, and he was an Ottawa County Sheriff's Department deputy. It just happened to be at an apartment near GVSU campus.

Lawrence4321

Lets look at this... Safety is the real issue here... It does not matter who was here first at all... For years during deer hunting season people go to the Rod and Gun club to site in the weapons. To my knowledge they have had no incident for years until now. First of all this range was never constructed for para-military tactical weapon training. I'm sure if the Rod and Gun club intended for this range to be used for this type of training the back stops mounds would be correct. Law Enforcement does not have any place where they can use weapons tactics except by using a indoor range. So because the Rod and Gun club has been nice enough to let law enforcement in the county use the range for shotgun and high power weapons training we have had an incident. The under lying issue is safety and yes if someone other than law enforcement was involved they may charge that people. But this did occurred on a proper firearms range which is proper for the basic target practice. The back stops need increasing if law enforcement are going to continue using this range for tactical weapons practice or maybe its time for the Ottawa County to build a proper outdoor tactical weapons range for all police agencies in West Michigan to get this training. I believe many years ago the home owners in the Allendale area complained about law enforcement using the road comm. gravel pit as a shooting range. I don't think anyone really wants a shooting range near a home... But unless someone wants to pay to build a state of the ark tactical range for the police... They need some place to train with these special weapons and practice these highly skilled tactics...... Safety and liability is the real issue here

ohwell

People mention this map that depicts where bullets have been found. Let me throw this out there just food for thought. Who says and can prove that every bullet found came from the rod and gun club? I know it is more than likely that they did. But let's think outside the box here for one second. There is a lot of land around there that people can be hunting on. A bullet can travel for miles without any obstructions. People could be small game hunting. Some of these bullets could come from these people. What are the caliber of bullets that were found? Just some thoughts and questions that should be looked at and considered. Again, most likely not the case, but there is no way to prove they all came from the rod and gun club.

How can this happen

Sound like you want some restrictions on hunting. Maybe a 3 mile buffer around residential property? This would be a great solution and would stop any accidents from happening again.

ohwell

Never anywhere did I say I want restrictions on hunting. A 3 mile buffer.....are you kidding? That would eliminate just about every place in the lower UP. No I am trying to get people to stop pointing the finger and playing the boo-ho game about bullets being found in their yard. Do I think it is unacceptable that someone got shot? Yes I do. There is a pretty clear understanding that when the person got shot in Cutter Park, that bullet came from the rod and gun club. There is also a pretty good chance that all the bullets that have been found came from the rod and gun club. However, there is absolutely no way to prove that is where they came from. And if anyone says they can prove it, I would challenge that person on how they can prove it. As I said, I am trying to get people to think that some of the bullets might have just come from some place else. There is a lot of open woods in the area surrounding both the gun club and Cutter Park.

minck1

I have been a shooter and firearms instructor for years and I have seen this problem before when proper backstop safety was not observed. There are two reasons that a backstop will fail to stop a downrange round. 1, The shooter is shooting into the air over the backstop or 2, an out of alley ricochet is caused by the shoot thru target being set up too far from the backdrop. Unlike at an indoor range when shoot thru targets are set up more than 50 feet away from a backdrop the round will not ricochet past the backstop because of the ceiling and walls focusing the round to the backstop. When targets are set up more than 50 feet away from the backstop on an outdoor range the round can pass thru the target and ricochet off of the ground and the round can be redirected into and unsafe direction causing it to miss the backstop. In the past I have seen this training set up done by instructors not wanting to walk the group down the range to the proper safe distance from the backdrop. Without seeing all of the evidence my guess would be that ground based ricochets from targets set up too far from the backdrop are the cause of what happened on the days that rounds were found outside of the range property.

How can this happen

I can't believe how everyone is blaming everyone else. Who is going to step up and take responsiblity? It is not just law enforcement bullets that are escaping. I believe that both the Gun Range and the police are at fault. They will have to accept responsibility and spend some serious cash enclosing that range.

Maryjane

This is really sad. I think the facility should be looked at to see what can be done to make sure that those bullets don't end up in neighborhoods or in the homes of families anymore.

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RobinsonRat

The problem is not if the gun club or subdivision was there first. the problem is that the GVSU officers are responsible for what happened on the gun range and no action is being taken against them by the prosecutors office. I think the gun club AND the homeowners/worker should sue GV for damages since it is now proven they were responsible. Then, GH township should back off the gun club, letting them open the range with the exception of pistol shooting on the range. Hopefully that could be a viable solution for everyone. Maybe the gun club should oversee ALL shooting no matter who is using the range. Ottawa County may need a range of their own, but who gets to pay for it? Us taxpayers are burdened enough.

AtomicRooster

GVSU officers are responsible for the incident. Why do the rest of us have to be penalized for their irresponsibilities?

 

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