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Appeals court: Baldwin gun range must be permanently closed

In a ruling made public Tuesday, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed a decision by St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Eric Lundell and ordered that the Central St. Croix Rod & Gun Club range in the town of Rush River be permanently closed.

The neighbors brought a trespass and nuisance action against the club seeking a permanent injunction against the use of firearms on the property -- both by the current owners or anyone else in the future.

The range, located on the east side of Hwy. 63, south of Baldwin and CTH N, closed for a period after Barry and Heather Serier, Randy Everson and members of Citizens for Safe & Peaceful Eau Galle & Rush River Townships sued the club in 2006, saying bulletsand shot from the target area had landed on their properties.

"We remanded the case to the circuit court with specific directions 'to enter a permanent injunction against firearm use at the club property,' " the appeals court in Wausau ruled Tuesday. "The circuit court was required to comply with this court's direction. The circuit court's limitation of the injunction to the club, its members and guests is not consistent with our prior opinion and mandate," the appeals court added.

In a July 21, 2009 decision, the District III Court of Appeals ordered that the Central St. Croix Rod and Gun Club's firing range, south of Baldwin, be permanently closed.

In May 2006, Barry Serier and other neighbors sued the club, which operated several shooting ranges on 11 acres it owns in the Town of Eau Galle.

The neighbors complained they had experienced many near misses with stray bullets and that their buildings had been hit by bullets. They alleged trespass and nuisance and asked the court to prohibit the use of firearms on the club's property.

Within a mile of the property, there are 28 homes, several churches, motels, restaurants, gas stations, a daycare center and a county bike route.

The neighbors' complaints included a report from an expert, who declared, "In over 50 years of experience using, supervising the use of and the designing and construction of firearm range facilities worldwide, this is the single worst example of a firearms range site, layout, design, construction, operation and use that I have ever witnessed."

The report also said alcohol was sold and consumed at the club and documented bags of empty beer cans as well as single cans strewn about.

Neighbors said they had found bullets, pellets and other debris on their land; had seen bullets flying overhead or hitting buildings; and had heard "out-of-control" machine gun fire at the range.

The case went to trial before Judge Eric Lundell, but the parties reached a settlement agreement before the trial ended.

Lundell closed the range until a plan could be developed to modify the range, its operation and supervision to ensure that no bullets would leave the property.

The stipulation and order said if the club failed to present a plan by a specified date or if the plan wasn't approved by the judge, the injunction would be permanent.

The club presented a plan on time, and Lundell held a hearing after which he concluded the plan was not adequate, but added, "I personally think that there still is a plan that will work to eliminate projectiles off the property, but this one that's been presented does not work like that. And I think it needs to be refined and resubmitted."

The judge listed examples of deficiencies that needed to be corrected.

The neighbors objected that the stipulation and order only allowed the club to present one acceptable plan, and it had failed.

Nevertheless Judge Lundell let the club present a revised plan, approved that plan and allowed the range to reopen without holding another hearing.

In appealing, the neighbors argued that the county court was obligated to enforce the clear terms of the parties' agreement.

The club argued that the agreement was not an agreement because it was titled "Injunction, Order for Judgment and Judgment" and was not signed by the parties.

The agreement gave the club one chance to present an acceptable comprehensive safety plan and because that plan was inadequate, the court must enforce the agreement by permanently closing the range, the appeals court said in 2009.

The state Supreme Court in 2009 rejected the gun club's petition to consider the case.