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Clay target range faces legal challenge

The R.D. Offutt Huntersville Sportsmen's Park broke ground June 7.

The Wadena County Board's conditional use permit (CUP) for a clay target shooting range in Shell River Township is being challenged in the state Court of Appeals.

Randy and Tami Wenthold, owners of Went North Bed & Corral, are asking the court to overturn the board's April 3 decision granting a CUP to the Park Rapids Clay Dusters club to allow the shooting range off County Road 18, near Huntersville.

Attorney Scott Anderson with Rupp, Anderson, Squires & Waldspurger, P.A. of Minneapolis is representing Wadena County in the lawsuit, in which the Clay Dusters club is also a respondent.

Representing the Clay Dusters is Matthew Van Bruggen with Pemberton Law in Wadena.

Anderson told the county board on May 10 about the timeline of the appeals process:

• A transcript of all meetings concerning the CUP is due June 22, with an itemized list of documentation to be completed by July 7.

• Written arguments are due Sept. 20.

• Around November, each side will have 15 minutes to make oral arguments, and the Wentholds will have a final five minutes.

• After oral testimony, the Court of Appeals has 90 days to make a decision.

Anderson told the board on May 10 that he feels the documentation in the case is thorough and shows the Wadena County Planning Commission handled it very well.

According to minutes of the board's April 3 meeting, the Wentholds opposed permitting the gun range, arguing that the county's noise study did not accurately depict the noise levels that would be present. They also entered a petition with 193 signatures in opposition to the proposed shooting range.

"They want the court to rule that it was improper to grant the conditional use permit and to overturn it," Anderson said. "One of their arguments is that this kind of use is not allowed in this district. The second argument is that even if the use is allowed, granting the permit was 'arbitrary and capricious,' which is basically saying that they didn't meet the standards of the ordinance."

Anderson said the county's noise tests included having people at Went North and other properties listen while shots were fired at the proposed gun range. "The county gave a lot of weight to those (tests) and to other testimony," he said.

Typically, in such cases, "the Court of Appeals will say that if there's conflicting evidence, it's for the county to decide which they find more persuasive. The court won't interfere with that," Anderson said.

"I believe that the county took everything into account that they were supposed to under the law," said Anderson, "and that their decision is solid and will be upheld."

Petitioner's point of view

Randy Wenthold told the Enterprise, "We want the court to rule that it was improper for the county to grant the conditional use permit and overturn it. We think that the county couldn't legally approve a gun range for this site because the property is zoned for agriculture or forestry, and the zoning ordinance doesn't allow gun ranges on agricultural or forestry land. We also believe that the county did not give adequate consideration to the noise that will be generated by the gun ranges and ignored that the proposed ranges do not meet required safety standards."

"We are challenging the CUP decision," Wenthold said, "because the site for the shooting range is wrong. There is a very long, rich history in this area in regard to trail riding and camping. Went North Bed & Corral is a business located in close proximity, which was never acknowledged as being in existence with any consideration to the noise assessment and safety factors. We know this will impact our business as well as the state forest trail system and campground. The initial request was for 11 to 17 hours per week for high school trap shooting teams on a spring and fall seasonal basis. This escalated to a request for up to 41 hours per week, seven months each year.

"There is DNR grant money involved, which requires public use of the range in addition to requirements to expand or increase its membership or opportunities for public participation, increase events and activities related to the primary activity as a shooting range, conduct shooting activities and discharge firearms daily between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. This area in the Huntersville State Forest is used recreationally by the public for activities involving the enjoyment a forest has to offer. This does not include a public shooting range."

According to the Wentholds' April 10 petition, Went North, LLC is represented by attorney Mark Thieroff.

Groundbreaking goes forward

Ground was broken Thursday on the shooting range, to be named the R.D. Offutt Huntersville Sportsmen's Park.

"They're allowed to do that," said Anderson. "They have a permit, and they do so at their own risk."

Participating in the gun range groundbreaking were bank representatives, State Sen. Paul Utke, and members and coaches of the Park Rapids Clay Dusters, the Menahga Bird Busters and the Sebeka Trap Team.

A diagram of the proposed shooting sports park suggests the facility will eventually have a clubhouse, parking area, small caliber gun range, archery range, and five trap and skeet stations. Currently there are only two trap houses on the property.

Phil Stuemke, head coach of the Clay Dusters, said, "I think it's fantastic. We've been waiting for this for a long time."