Sands Township shooting range gets go-ahead

Pictured is a man shooting a large caliber hunting rifle at the Izaak Walton League shooting range in Bennet, Neb. The Sands Township Planning Commission on Monday unanimously approved a special-use permit for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to construct and operate a shooting range in the township. (AP photo)

MARQUETTE — The Sands Township Planning Commission on Monday unanimously approved a special-use permit for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to construct and operate a shooting range in the township.

The range would be on a 24.3-acre parcel located off Marquette County Road 480 west of M-553. The property is leased from Cleveland-Cliffs Inc.

The Sands Township Board in June failed to support the rezoning of about 20 acres of land from industrial to open space for a DNR shooting range near the site for which the planning commission OK’d the permit on Monday.

Audience members at Monday’s public hearing voiced many concerns that had been risen during 2018 discussions, many having to do with noise.

However, the planning commission gave its approval with the following conditions:

≤ The range must comply with the DNR’s rules for such facilities.

≤ The range must comply with the Sport Shooting Ranges Act of 1989.

≤ The range must comply with all local, county and state ordinances and laws addressing shooting ranges.

≤ The range must comply with Sands Township noise and nuisance ordinances.

≤ The range must have an 8-foot fence and be locked during non-open hours.

≤ The range shall be staffed during open hours.

≤ The range shall be organized and kept in a clean condition, with shell casings picked up daily.

≤ Lead shall be contained in an area lined to prevent groundwater contamination.

≤ At the close of the shooting range’s life, the area shall be returned to its natural condition at the DNR’s expense.

≤ There must be security cameras.

≤ There will be test wells, with results given to the Sands Township Zoning and Planning Department.

≤ A follow-up review will take place in 18 months.

Stacy Welling Haughey, Upper Peninsula regional coordinator for the DNR, said the approved site was the first choice for the seasonal range, which, she stressed, has been tested for sound at various monitoring locations, including the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter.

UPAWS is located off M-553 in Sands Township.

“When they were at the UPAWS site and our officer shot at Goose Lake, it was not a measurable decibel level,” Haughey said.

Haughey said there are 12 such shooting ranges in the Lower Peninsula.

The Sands Township range would be the first in the U.P.

The cost of the range, Haughey said, is $800,000, which would come from state and federal grants earmarked specifically for the facility. Also, the shelter would have environmental and sound abatement.

“We’re going to be working in any way we can to make sure that those details and concerns are addressed,” Haughey said.

Bob Stephenson, a township resident and a member of the UPAWS board, expressed concern over the negative impact gunfire would have on the facility’s animals.

UPAWS has a dog park open to the public as well as dog walking trails.

“We are residents of the township now,” Stephenson said. “We have risks to revenues that we would earn from having people use our dog park. We have risk for our animals who react negatively to gunfire and similar sound.

“We would like sound testing relevant to the animals.”

Shelley Brauer, vice chairwoman of the planning commission, addressed the issue of security during a group discussion that preceded the vote.

“Even though it can be locked, I still think there has to be an idea of some security cameras up there, because you can lock it, but guess what? People can climb a fence,” Brauer said.

Other audience members’ concerns included ground monitoring, a drop in property values, being unable to look over the vegetation of the site under the current heavy snowfall, and a lack of supervision at the range.

George Lindquist, a trustee of the U.P. Whitetails Association Inc. of Marquette County and president of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, favored the shooting range, noting that people already shoot unsupervised at the site.

“People can shoot there night and day, up in the air, with no rules,” Lindquist said.

He believes a DNR range would bring order, which doesn’t exist now, to the area.

“This would be a controlled situation with controlled hours,” Lindquist said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.