The Spurwink Rod & Gun Club’s executive board has met to develop “a plan of action” in response to the town suspending live fire at its shooting range on Sawyer Road, according to club president Tammy Walter.

“Actions are under way on many fronts,” Walter wrote in a letter to gun club members. ?“At this time, the club asks for your continued support. Any help that you can provide, be it time, effort, or increased financial support, would be greatly appreciated and will hasten the day when the club’s suspension can be lifted and the club can again allow live-fire activities.”

Details of the board’s plan were not available as of the Current’s Tuesday deadline.

Live gunfire was suspended at the shooting range in Cape Elizabeth last Thursday after a safety evaluator from Georgia found several safety deficiencies at the 61-year-old facility, including a lack of structures to prevent stray bullets from leaving the property. He also found that “the existing and proposed improvements are not sufficient to assure containment,” the report says.

National Rifle Association expert Rick LaRosa, of R Design Works in Kennesaw, Ga., is expected to attend the next Town Council meeting, Monday, Aug. 10, to provide a summary of his 17-page report.

Spurwink Rod & Gun Club President Tammy Walter announced Friday on the club’s Facebook page that “due to an unfavorable range safety evaluation” completed by the town-commissioned inspector, Cape Elizabeth police Chief Neil Williams decided to suspend all live fire on the premises.

“It was a fairly easy decision, looking at the report,” Williams said.

“It’s been a rocky road,” added Town Manager Mike McGovern. “There has been a lot of criticism and strong feelings on both sides of the issue, but I think the Town Council and the police chief have taken a very responsible approach in deciding to suspend live firing at the range after seeing and reading the recommendation from the independent safety evaluator.”

Walter said that the club would remain open for meetings, archery and fishing activities.

According to Walter, the club passed all previous safety inspections, and has made several safety upgrades at the shooting range since LaRosa made his preliminary visit to the range in April.

“When the range is used as intended, we have 100 percent shot containment,” Walter argued. “We believe the live-fire suspension is unwarranted. In 61 years of operation we have had no major mishaps. The town of Cape Elizabeth needs to take that into account.”

While the club believes LaRosa raises some valid safety concerns, Walter told the Current that the safety report “far exceeds reasonableness in its entirety.” She has spent several hours on the phone with lawyers, engineers and town officials since Friday in an attempt to get the suspension lifted, she said.

“The major points are already part of our improvement plan,” Walter said. “We have invested a great deal of time, effort and resources to improve (the range). Further efforts are planned and under way.”

LaRosa again visited the range on Sawyer Road in May to conduct his safety inspection. The town – which hired LaRosa to assess the club’s safety in the wake of ongoing noise and safety complaints from nearby Cross Hill Road residents – received LaRosa’s report on July 23. Included in the document are several recommendations for bringing the range up to National Rifle Association specifications.

“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 wrote.

The club is now required to apply for a license annually under a shooting range ordinance adopted by the town in March 2014. Earlier this month the Town Council accepted a handful of findings and recommendations by the Firing Range Committee, which was formed last year to review shooting-range license applications. It also scheduled a Sept. 14 hearing to determine whether to issue a license to the club.

While the Firing Range Committee has recommended that the Town Council approve the application, it also suggested that the council ask the safety evaluator to comment on the club’s design phasing plans and how it will achieve shot containment, among other items.

In the report LaRosa said, “an accurate topographic and environmental survey needs to be conducted of the existing site” and that “a comprehensive range manual needs to be compiled addressing procedures. Additionally, a narrower limit needs to be established for the ballistics, firearms and powder charges allowed on this range,” he said.

LaRosa is also recommending that the town and the club work with a range designer “to determine the exact requirements for shot containment.”

Live fire will be suspended until LaRosa’s recommendations are implemented. Once the range is brought up to standards, it will be deemed as an appropriate location for shooting activities, LaRosa said.

Though the range appears to be operating as intended, said LaRosa, “the relationship between the fire line, targeting location, the existing ridge, adjacent residences, and ballistics allowed are not adequate to avoid and direct fire, ricochets or fragments.”

According to McGovern, the town consulted with attorney John Wall of Portland-based Monaghan Leahy last week regarding the town’s decision to suspend live fire at the range. On Monday, however, McGovern declined to provide the Current with specific details on the town’s discussion with Wall.

“It was a very significant decision – the one that the chief made – to suspend the firing of live ammunition,” said McGovern. “Before you do something like that, it’s just important to get good legal advice.”

Since mid-December, club members have completed several safety improvement projects on the shooting range, including the installation of three rubber-padded concrete shot containment walls and rubber backstop berms to contain stray bullets. According to Walter, members have spent about $60,000 to modernize the range as part of a “No Blue Sky” bullet containment project.

The club is now trying to raise an additional $90,000 for a new electric security gate, a new 35-by-14-foot sound-dampening shooting shed, an additional shot containment wall, and an engineered “No Blue Sky” baffle system above the shooting range, according to Walter.

“The Spurwink Rod & Gun Club is a safe club,” said Walter in a press release. “Safety is more than infrastructure; it is a set of habits and proceeds by its members. Ultimately, any club is only as safe as its members conduct themselves.”

Walter said she doesn’t believe the suspension of live firing at the range will have an effect on the membership at Spurwink Rod & Gun Club, and anticipates working with the town “to resolve those issues which remain, as quickly as possible, in a spirit of openness and cooperation.”

“We have very supportive members who have stuck by us,” added Walter. “We fully expect the same during these challenging times.”

Notices have been posted on the fence around the shooting range on Sawyer Road in Cape Elizabeth notifying Spurwink Rod & Gun Club members of the police department’s decision to suspend live fire at the range in the wake of a safety evaluation performed there in May.Staff photo by Kayla J. Collins

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