Sands Township shooting range zoning request denied

GWINN — The Sands Township Planning Commission on Tuesday denied a request from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to have a parcel of land along Marquette County Road 480 rezoned to allow for a public shooting range.

The DNR was requesting a zoning change from industrial to open space.

However, that rezoning, as well as noise concerns voiced by the public, was problematic for the commission, which tabled the issue from an April 17 meeting.

Even though she acknowledged she is in favor of a shooting range, Shelley Brauer, acting planning commission chairwoman, had several reservations about the proposed range, noting that noise travels.

She had at least one other concern.

“The zoning thing is what bothers me,” Brauer said.

Commission member Justin Yelle expressed similar thoughts about the zoning, saying the master plan’s purpose is to keep conflicting property uses away from each other.

“My biggest issue is having this rezoning change in that particular area because that zoning change would allow anything else to take place there along with the shooting range that’s allowed on open space, whether it be a campground or large-capacity water well or communications tower, any of that sort,” Yelle said. “That’s something we can’t stop once we set this.”

The DNR sought to build a 12-lane range on 20 acres of land along County Road 480 west of the Crossroads at M-553 near a gravel pit owned by A. Lindberg and Sons Inc., a producer of aggregate materials. The public range would have been the first of its kind in the Upper Peninsula.

The DNR had looked at 20 acres of Marquette County Road Commission land, with the plan to invest between $800,000 and $1 million for the range.

Planning Commissioner Aaron Burbey, who called himself a shooter, said the proposed area wouldn’t work for a range since it would come at a cost to the residents who have investments in their houses and property.

Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch read a letter the county board sent to the DNR in early 2017, saying it was in favor of the range.

“As there are many hunters and recreational shooters looking for a safe shooting environment within the Upper Peninsula, the range in Marquette County would be a great addition,” the letter read. “Currently there are several membership-driven shooting clubs in Marquette County, but not all residents can afford to be members.”

Also mentioned in the letter was the existence of unsanctioned and unmonitored locations, which often are littered with trash, and a DNR shooting range would help eliminate the problematic sites.

David Kallio, who lives in Sands Township, came out against the range.

“I’m not against shooting,” Kallio said. “In fact, I think it’s a great idea, particularly when it’s done in an educated and smart way.”

He noted the dangers of lead associated with ranges.

“If you want the safest shooting for both the shooter and the environment, right now it’d have to be enclosed with correct ventilation, capture of lead, not potentially impacting water,” Kallio said.

Stacy Welling Haughey, U.P. regional coordinator for the DNR, said the agency assessed 12 sites for a range, holding public meetings and determining with the public who would use the sites and where they would be located.

Overwhelmingly, the proposed Sands Township site was chosen.

Haughey also addressed the range’s environmental impact.

“We have a full containment system,” Haughey said. “There would be no contamination. It would have a full system and a liner system.”

She pointed out that she’s been told there have been “20 years of active shooting” at the proposed site, but there is no containment.

Following the commission’s denial of the rezoning request, Haughey said the DNR appreciated the time and effort the planning commission put into the issue.

“We’ll be working to assess what other options we might have going forward and look forward to working with all of you,” Haughey said.

The Sands Township Planning Commission will compile information about the range and send it to the Marquette County Planning Commission, which also will make a recommendation.

It’s expected the Sands Township Board will make the final decision at its June 12 meeting at Sands Township Hall.

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