TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County Commissioners and Sheriff Department officers were taken by surprise Wednesday, when eight Hodge Road homeowners lobbed noise complaints about a former prison’s gun range.
“I literally thought somebody from down the road had some buddies over and they were blowing up a refrigerator with some taconite,” said Ian Kesterson, a Coast Guard supervisor, of explosions audible from his Fife Lake Township home.
“Most of the week, it’s rapid-fire guns,” said Dave Nichols, also of Fife Lake Township. “It used to be just single fire guns.”
“The shooting we are hearing is not what I would call practice firing,” said Jerianne Street, whose husband, Terry Street, also spoke. “It is more like a war zone, with rapid semi-automatic weapons firing many hours a day.”
Terry Street, who said he supports police but wants to enjoy a glass of lemonade on his back porch without hearing gunfire, is Fife Lake Township’s clerk.
The range at the former Pugsley Correctional Facility was not on the board’s meeting agenda and members expressed surprise over the number of people who spoke about the issue.
“I have nothing on this,” said Commissioner Sonny Wheelock, Jr., who said no decisions would be made that day but asked for the issue to be placed on the Feb. 19 agenda.
The 20-acre range is on the grounds of the former prison, a minimum security facility which housed more than 1,000 inmates before shuttering in 2016. Homeowners also asked about possible lead contamination at the site.
Capt. Christopher Clark, who attended the board meeting, said in a phone interview that law enforcement has used the 20-acre range since 2011, and for the past 1.5 years has sought to improve the location using brownfield funds.
Two environmental impact studies were completed before the use could be approved, he said.
“We’ve had to follow township zoning rules, we had to present each phase to the state land bank, we had to have discussions about what the previous use of the range was, what the current use is, and what the future use will be,” Clark said. “We are thinking of not just today, but what the needs of regional law enforcement agencies will be in 20 and 30 years.”
On Jan. 29, Clark sent a letter to 35 property owners near the range, explaining the property’s development and purpose and offering to answer questions.
“It has been explained, at these meetings, that the Sheriff’s Office is in need of a dedicated firearms range to train department members as well as other local law enforcement agencies.”
Clark said the FBI, the Michigan Department of Corrections, the Michigan State Police, the Department of Natural Resources and law enforcement students from Northwestern Michigan College all use the range.
The purchase would make training and qualifying easier for local law enforcement, Undersheriff Mike Shea previously said, since officers would not have to make the 60-mile drive to Camp Grayling.
In October commissioners voted to buy 20 acres on the former prison grounds for $1, and signed off on a brownfield plan for additional tenants to develop the remaining 85 acres, as previously reported by the Record-Eagle.
North Bay Capital had an option agreement to purchase the property from the State Land Bank Authority, but there was a misfire.
In a special board meeting Nov. 7, Fife Lake Township voted to ask North Bay Capital for $30,000 to offset a loss in taxes and for township attorney Todd Millar to negotiate with North Bay to reimburse additional costs incurred by the Fife Lake board.
In late December, Inphastos, Kingsley Lumber & Hardware and the Michigan Reload Center were tenants for the development, but Inphastos left the project.
Now Kingsley Lumber & Hardware and the Michigan Reload Center are suing Inphastos for more than $2.25 million it claims Inphastos owes and refuses to pay, court documents show.
Clark said the Sheriff’s Department, working with the county’s deputy administrator, Chris Forsythe, is seeking to move their part of the deal forward.
On Feb. 19 Clark said he plans to address Grand Traverse County Board and answer questions, and on Feb. 27, approval of the range is scheduled to be on the Fife Lake Township Board’s agenda.