CAPE ELIZABETH — The Spurwink Rod and Gun Club has been ordered to suspend live fire after a safety evaluator declared the club unsafe.
The club president called the evaluation “unfair.”
The Sawyer Road club was informed by Police Chief Neil Williams on July 24 that all shooting would be suspended at the range because of safety concerns. The report was written by Rick LaRosa, an independent safety evaluator from Georgia, who was hired by the town.
“While the existing range is in the process of implementing a plan of improvements, a more comprehensive approach to containment and sustainability needs to be considered, designed, funded and implemented to provide a safe environment for users and contiguous property owners,” LaRosa said in his report.
The town hired LaRosa as part of a new licensing process. Although the club has existed for over 60 years, it must register and obtain a license under the ordinance enacted in early 2014.
The report listed several reasons why the club shouldn’t be allowed to use live ammunition, including that bullets could easily leave the range and reach the nearby Cross Hill neighborhood.
“All ballistics that are currently indicated as ‘allowed’ at the range have the potential of leaving the range site and property,” LaRosa said.
LaRosa said there is no containment system in place and that he recommends “range baffling, containment, no blue-sky, sound dampening or other systems” be put in place.
LaRosa said the firing shed isn’t safe either, and can’t protect gun club members from “accidental discharge.” He also said the range’s manual hasn’t been updated to include new procedures.
The report also said the security system is insufficient for keeping out trespassers.
LaRosa said that “an accurate topographic and environmental survey needs to be conducted of the existing site to establish the existing conditions for the basis of design and engineering.”
Gun club President Tammy Walter said she is upset with the report and Williams’ decision to suspend live fire.
“We were completely shocked,” she said. “This is unfair.”
Walter said LaRosa used the “most rigid standards” in his evaluation and “proposed changes that far exceed reasonable caution.”
Club member and former President Mark Mayone agreed and said the club shouldn’t have been evaluated yet, because improvements to the range aren’t complete and won’t be until 2017.
“The town is evaluating us when we’re halfway done, not fully finished, and that’s not fair,” he said.
Mayone also expressed anger about residents of Cross Hill, who have filed noise and safety complaints against the gun club.
“We’re upset that a very small group from the local neighborhood has hijacked the town and made the town close us down,” he said.
Mayone said no matter what improvements the club makes, the neighbors won’t be satisfied.
“We could put a bulletproof dome over the club and they still wouldn’t be happy,” he said.
The club is using Go Fund Me to raise $90,000 so it can afford the improvements it needs.
“We could do everything if we had the money,” Walter said.
Town Manager Michael McGovern said live fire will be suspended at the club until after a Sept. 14 public hearing on the club’s license application. The public hearing was scheduled after the Firing Range Committee in June recommended the application be approved by the Town Council.
It is unclear if the club could resume live fire if the Town Council approves the license application. It is also unclear what will happen if the application is denied.
Walter said she doesn’t know when the club will be allowed to reopen.
The club held a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday night, but Walter said members didn’t discuss a plan to remedy their situation. On Wednesday, Walter and Mayone said they will continue working on improvements to the range.
“The situation won’t be fixed with good intentions,” Mayone said. “It’ll be fixed with cooperation with the town, cool heads, and generous donations.”
The Spurwink Rod and Gun Club in Cape Elizabeth was informed July 24 that it must cease all live fire after a town-hired safety evaluator found the range unsafe.