Couple takes aim at police gun range

·3 min read

For the past five weeks, Mari-Lynn Harper says she and her partner Darcy Smith have been living a nightmare.

That’s because Chatham-Kent police officers started using their new shooting range, located just three doors down from the pair’s Dillon Road home.

Harper said the sound of constant gunfire is the new norm, sometimes occurring for a 12-hour period, starting around 7 a.m.

“It’s horrible,” the Tek Savvy employee said. “My dogs won’t go outside. It sounds like the Gaza Strip.”

Harper said she had no idea there was a new gun range going in at the site that’s home to a large storage shed and the dog training area.

However, Harper’s comments don’t gel with the statements offered by police and the municipality.

In a back-and-forth chain of e-mails with Chief Gary Conn – also copied to South Kent municipal councillors and other administrators – it states that three neighbouring households were canvassed about the gun range in 2018.

However, Harper and Smith dispute the claim saying no one told them about what was to come.

Paul Lacina, the municipality’s director of building development services, said neighbours were canvassed in 2018 as a courtesy only, adding there’s no paper trail of the action.

But Harper and Smith don’t buy it, claiming they were not consulted about the range.

Smith’s parents have lived on the property next door to them since the 1980s. The elderly couple who both have cancer and do not want to go public, say they were not consulted about the range.

Harper said Darcy’s father also has a heart condition and is “startled” each and every time he hears shots fired.

In a message to Harper, Conn said the $1.8-million capital project is nearly complete. The cost includes nearly $800,000 to build the soil berms higher than required by federal regulations.

Conn said the range has been moved three times since he started with the police service 24 years ago, and every move brings an element of NIMBY (not in my backyard) no matter where it goes.

Previous ranges were located in Cedar Springs and Dresden.

Conn told Harper they won’t be moving the Dillon Road range, but he’s confident further sound abatement in the spring will help.

Lacina concurred with Conn.

Because the gun range is located on municipally owned land, it can be used as a CKPS shooting range as part of normal police duties, officials said. Police are required by law to recertify on their firearms annually.

Harper also would like to know why police started using the facility when it’s not finished. She’s also concerned that with no fencing or proper signage, animals and people can walk into the space at will.

Harper also believes the loud shots must somehow violate a noise bylaw.

“It sounds like heavy-duty artillery, not just hand guns,” Harper stressed.

Even though the gunfire is not constant – sometimes there are days where there is no shooting at all – Harper said few would want it in their backyard.

“Would any of them want to live with this?”

Conn issued a public statement Monday morning, in response to the concerns raised by Harper.

According to the statement, current municipal bylaws allow for an exemption for police ranges allowing for the discharge of firearms Monday to Sunday between all hours, except for 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Conn also stated the property is zoned rural industrial, not residential, and its central location is “ideal for our purposes.”

The media release also stated that the new location will save the police service about $50,000 a year, and could be further offset if other organizations opt to rent it.

Conn said the former sites in Cedar Springs and Dresden were “haemorrhaging money” as the municipality did not own the locations.

The range is posted with one sign, Conn explained, and more signs will be installed this week, adding people who trespass on the land could be charged.

Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice

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