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Appeals court orders closing of St. Croix shooting range

In a July 21 decision, the District III Court of Appeals ordered that the Central St. Croix Rod and Gun Club's firing range, south of Baldwin, be permanently closed.

In May 2006, Barry Serier and other neighbors sued the club, which operated several shooting ranges on 11 acres it owns in the Town of Eau Galle.

The neighbors complained they had experienced many near misses with stray bullets and that their buildings had been hit by bullets. They alleged trespass and nuisance and asked the court to prohibit the use of firearms on the clubís property.

Within a mile of the property, there are 28 homes, several churches, motels, restaurants, gas stations, a daycare center and a county bike route.

The neighbors' complaints included a report from an expert, who declared, "In over 50 years of experience using, supervising the use of and the designing and construction of firearm range facilities worldwide, this is the single worst example of a firearms range site, layout, design, construction, operation and use that I have ever witnessed."

The report also said alcohol was sold and consumed at the club and documented bags of empty beer cans as well as single cans strewn about.

Neighbors said they had found bullets, pellets and other debris on their land; had seen bullets flying overhead or hitting buildings; and had heard "out-of-control" machine gun fire at the range.

The case went to trial before Judge Eric Lundell, but the parties reached a settlement agreement before the trial ended.

Lundell closed the range until a plan could be developed to modify the range, its operation and supervision to ensure that no bullets would leave the property.

The stipulation and order said if the club failed to present a plan by a specified date or if the plan wasn't approved by the judge, the injunction would be permanent.

The club presented a plan on time, and Judge Lundell held a hearing. At the end of the two-day hearing, he found the plan was not adequate, but added, "I personally think that there still is a plan that's -- that will work to eliminate projectiles off the property, but this one that's been presented does not work like that. And I think it needs to be refined and resubmitted."

The judge listed examples of deficiencies that needed to be corrected.

The neighbors objected that the stipulation and order only allowed the club to present one acceptable plan, and it had failed.

Nevertheless Judge Lundell let the club present a revised plan, approved that plan and allowed the range to reopen without holding another hearing.

In appealing, the neighbors argued that the county court was obligated to enforce the clear terms of the parties' agreement.

The club argued that the agreement was not an agreement because it was titled "Injunction, Order for Judgment and Judgment" and was not signed by the parties.

That argument ignores the record, according to the Court of Appeals. The trial transcript shows the agreement was read aloud in open court. The club's attorney said he agreed to the terms and his clients each told the judge they accepted the agreement.

The agreement gave the club one chance to present an acceptable comprehensive safety plan and because that plan was inadequate, the court must enforce the agreement by permanently closing the range, ruled the appeals court.