County OK's gun range purchase

Forsyth

TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office deputies won’t have to worry about finding a new place to practice shooting.

Grand Traverse County commissioners on Wednesday approved purchasing the gun range at the former Pugsley Correctional Facility for $1 from the Michigan Land Bank Authority. The county has been using the gun range to train its deputies for a while, said County Administrator Nate Alger.

“This gun range has been strictly law enforcement and will continue to be strictly law enforcement,” Deputy Civil Counsel Chris Forsyth said. Deputies are required to shoot yearly to maintain their certification as police officers.

The former prison sits on a roughly 179-acre property located on Walton Road between Kingsley and Fife Lake. Pugsley closed in September 2016 as a way to save about $22 million in the Michigan Department of Corrections’ 2017 budget. About 230 employees had to relocate or lose their jobs.

Proposals for redevelopment of the property were accepted by the MLBA from both Grand Traverse County and North Bay Capital Group LLC. Through a development agreement, the county will purchase the roughly 20 acres that the gun range is located on, with North Bay taking on the remaining acreage in phases.

County commissioners were the first of four parties that need to approve the development agreement. The other parties are the MLBA, North Bay and Fife Lake Township.

As a prison site, the property had been exempt from local zoning regulations per state law, said James Tischler, development director for the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority. Once the property is transferred to private ownership, it becomes subject to local zoning regulations — Fife Lake Township’s, in this case, he said.

The development agreement would have Fife Lake Township designate the property as an industrial district. Grand Traverse County then would request special use and site plan approval for the gun range, which would be expanded to provide additional training opportunities, according to agreement.

Commissioner Cheryl Gore Follette raised concerns of the gun range’s potential lead pollution from the spent rounds and the county’s liability should that happen. The agreement states that the range potentially is considered a pollution facility under Michigan’s environmental protection laws.

Forsyth explained that there is a clause that allows the county to cancel the agreement if officials aren’t satisfied with an environmental assessment that will be done prior to closing on the property.

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“We’re certainly dotting our I’s and crossing our T’s,” he said.

Sheriff’s office Capt. Christopher Clark said that the plan is to establish a management plan in accordance with the National Rifle Association’s guidelines.

“We’ll have the baseline study done for what’s currently there, but going forward down the road, we’ll do a round count every training session,” Clark said. “We’ll know what’s being put in the ground.”

TRAVERSE CITY — Chris Forsyth soon will shift his duties to Grand Traverse County from deputy civil counsel to deputy county administrator.

He will begin on Dec. 17 with a salary of about $104,600. Forsyth was one of 36 applicants, four of whom were interviewed, said County Administrator Nate Alger, who selected Forsyth with help from Human Resources Director Donna Kinsey.

Forsyth was part of the interim county administrative team along with Alger, then undersheriff, and Finance Director Dean Bott. They developed a good working relationship and trust during that time, Alger said.

“I’ve seen how our employees and our community respond to Chris just in terms of his leadership qualities, his personality, knowledge,” Alger said. “People trust him and have a certain level of confidence in him that I already know exists. I don’t have to wait to see if a new deputy administrator would bring that same type of confidence.”

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Forsyth said he enjoyed working with Alger and Bott as interim administrators.

“Not only did I like it, (but) I knew that I could take the skills that I’ve developed being a municipal lawyer for the last 13 years and now apply those to administration,” he said.

Forsyth has a bachelors degree in political science from the University of Michigan and a juris doctorate from Wayne State University Law School.