Cape Elizabeth’s police chief ordered the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club to suspend shooting at its outdoor range Friday after an expert found the facility unsafe for members and neighbors.

Town officials received a preliminary report Thursday from Rick LaRosa, an architect from Kennesaw, Georgia, who was recommended to the town by the National Rifle Association to conduct an independent safety evaluation of the shooting range on outer Sawyer Road.

LaRosa’s report is the latest twist in a conflict between the decades-old club and its newer residential neighbors, whose safety and noise complaints the Town Council tried to address last year by passing a shooting range ordinance.

LaRosa found a variety of safety and security deficiencies at the range, including a lack of structures to prevent stray bullets from leaving the property, protect club members from being hit by accidental discharges and keep nonmembers from accidentally or intentionally entering the 18-acre facility.

“All ballistics that are currently indicated as ‘allowed’ at the range have the potential of leaving the range site and property,” LaRosa wrote in a 17-page report. “There is currently no containment system in place … to assure accidental fire, ricochets or fragments are contained.”

LaRosa also found that the club’s range manual is incomplete, and that recent and proposed improvements touted by club leaders aren’t enough to ensure the safety of members or neighbors.

LaRosa concluded that the range is an “average facility” that is “minimally maintained,” but it would be appropriate for shooting activities if the club hired a qualified designer to design and install recommended baffling, containment and other safety systems.

Police Chief Neil Williams met Friday afternoon with club president Tammy Walter and informed her that he was suspending the use of live ammunition at the range until the Town Council acts on the club’s pending application for an operating license for the facility. Williams, who is the enforcement authority for the shooting range ordinance, then posted notices at the club at 1250 Sawyer Road.

“The chief really had no choice,” Town Manager Mike McGovern said Friday. “The report raises a long list of concerns about safety at the shooting range. It also confirms the direction that the Town Council has taken for the last few years by focusing on safety and hiring an independent safety evaluator.”

SHOCKED BY SHUTDOWN

Walter posted an announcement Friday on the club’s Facebook page inviting members to learn more about the shutdown at a regular meeting Tuesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. In a phone interview, Walter said she planned to speak with the club’s attorney Friday evening and meet with its executive board Sunday evening to discuss next steps.

“I’m shocked by this report,” Walter said. “I do want to ensure everyone’s safety, but our range passed a full safety evaluation three year ago. Since (LaRosa) visited the range in April, we’ve made substantial improvements and we’re not done yet.”

Walter noted that the club remains open for archery, fishing and other events.

The Town Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing Sept. 14 on the club’s application for a license to operate under the shooting range ordinance, which was approved in March 2014.

The ordinance established the Firing Range Committee, which recently issued its own findings that the town’s only shooting range was operating safely under state and local laws and should be licensed by the town.

The committee found that the club had met requirements in the shooting range ordinance to ensure that bullets stay within the club’s boundaries. It also found that the club had adequate security to control who uses the shooting range.

“When the range is used as intended, it would appear to have 100 percent shot containment,” the committee found.

NEIGHBORHOOD CONFLICT

The committee also determined that the town cannot restrict noise at the 61-year-old club because state law prohibits municipalities from enacting noise ordinances against existing shooting ranges.

The club was established in a gully off outer Sawyer Road in 1954, when the nearest neighbors of the shooting range were sprawling farms.

The Cross Hill neighborhood of $500,000 to $800,000 homes grew up around the club in the last decade, though other neighbors have complained about noise over the last 30 years.

More recently, some Cross Hill residents pushed town officials to address mounting complaints, including claims that some houses have been hit by stray bullets.

While the committee found that state law blocks the town from imposing noise restrictions on the club, the panel has recommended that the council consider changing the weekend hours of operation allowed in the shooting range ordinance.

The ordinance allows shooting ranges to operate from 8 a.m. to a half hour before sunset Monday through Saturday and from noon to a half hour before sunset on Sunday.

The council agreed last year to hire a qualified, independent evaluator to help the committee assess the safety of the firing range.

In it latest findings, the committee recommended that the council ask the evaluator to specifically assess the club’s plans to enhance shot containment and determine whether they meet NRA standards.