Monday, February 27, 2012

Recreation versus Noise-Who should take Preference?

I have resisted writing about the local noise issue in the Grenfel area as it impacts the residents and seasonal visitors in one area of Springwater that amounts to about 150 people. I do think that it is a microcosm of how things seem to work in Springwater and with this council.

In this article I am only addressing the impact of one gun range as I know there are two in the township. I have no comments on the range on the Old Second as I do not live there. I do know that the range on Pinegrove Road is on a small piece of property of about 40 acres and the other one is on 250 acres of property. I also know the local gun club has mainly sports shooters while the other is a conservation organization and conducts its business quite differently. The Pinegrove Road club has almost 500 member while the other has around 200.

The gun range on Pinegrove has grown over the last 15 years to become a very large operation. The constant growth has increased the frequency and amount of noise emanating from the facility.

When I first moved here in 1997, the noise was noticeable as I live about 600 metres directly east of the shotgun ranges. Unfortunately they shoot directly towards my house. It was annoying but they only shot occasionally so it was tolerable. At the time, the activity was so sporadic that my son and daughter went for a walk and wandered onto the ranges as there were no fences and no one was on the site. Because of the state of the outdoor shooting field my son at the time thought it was possibly an abandoned site. That was in 1997.

The old abandoned gravel pit close to Pinegrove, which was in operation until the early 90’s, was repurchased by the gun club around 1994. They constructed a couple of ranges in the late 90’s and then over the next number of years expanded to about 7 to 9 different rifle and handgun setups which added to the noise and a growing number of members. In the mid 2000’s the shotgun ranges expanded. The township had no cut and fill bylaw at the time, so this was perfectly legal. Because the ranges do not have structures, no building permit or site plan was required to build ranges. The noise levels and frequency of activity increased.

The issue in Grenfel is noise not guns. I myself am a fairly good shot with a .22 and I come from a family of hunters and fishermen. We live in a community of farmers and hunters and fully support their right to seasonal hunting and protecting their local livestock from predators. However these farmers and hunters do not shoot frequently or seven days a week as do the members of the gun club. They don’t typically shoot 50 rounds at a time. The constant gunshots from the Pinegrove range is quite different and not tolerable.

The complaints to the township began in 2002 and over the last 10 years there have been numerous deputations and petitions to the council and planning committee about the issue. Around 2005, for two years we had numerous meetings with all the stakeholders but made no progress as the prior council simply wanted to delay the issue hoping it would go away or people would tire of the issue and move on. It only gets worse and more frustrating each year. A number of residents simply have given up and moved away from the noise. They felt that council really does not care or understand the agitation that constant impulse sounds from gunshots creates. Unless you live here you cannot appreciate the negative impact it has on our health and well being. The gun club suggests to this council that there are only a couple people that complain and a majority of residents have no problem. The many delegations and multiple petitions to council over the years suggest something totally different.

In 2010 we saw the first development of a proposed noise bylaw to address a number of noise issues, not just gun noise. It went through a number of variations and meetings and is now approaching the end of the development cycle.

An ideal solution would be to reduce the number of hours of operation for the gun club and possibly restrict the weapons fired. The loudest noise comes from shotguns, large caliber handguns and high powered rifles. A proper solution and compromise for hours of operation would be to limit shooting to Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. and no Sunday shooting. This would be a compromise and much more generous than what courts have ruled in other regions when contested in civil actions. But the residents of Grenfel are community people and respect their neighbors. All we have asked is that the hours of operation be limited to 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and no Sunday shooting. This gives the gun club members over 75% of the daylight hours in the summer to shoot. Don’t you think this is a reasonable request? Maybe it is because few of the Pinegrove club members live in Springwater and the noise they make is not in their backyard. Again I must stress I am referring to the Pinegrove club not the facility on the Old Second.

Much to our surprise the recent Township noise bylaw draft which was debated on Feb 21st not only did not include our requests but in fact extended the hours from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday over the previous draft from February 6th. Instead of no Sunday shooting which has been a request of the community for years, they propose shooting Sundays 9 to 6 in the winter months and 12 to 6 in the summer months. This council has at least done a good job at finally drafting a noise bylaw but they have failed to meet the needs of the local taxpayers. We do not fully understand how preference is being given to the gun clubs over those impacted by the constant noise and health hazard of gunshots. How is it a compromise as Mayor Collins touts when you allow the loudest sounds in the township to disturb our properties 80% of daylight hours? A compromise it is not. At best what is being proposed is a small concession on the part of the gun club. The only possibility is that the gun club on the Old Second has a lesser impact on the local residents in the area and has few complaints because of the size of the property, the frequency of shooting or even the direction they shoot. If this is the case I sympathize with them and suggest the Old Second club reinforce the point with council that they made at the June 2010 meeting. They pointed out that they are conservationists first and sports shooters second. Since the members at that club I understand are more local, the council is possibly focused on doing what is right for them and trying to seek a balance. I don’t agree with the approach but I actually understand that idea. If this be the case I suggest that council provide two schedules of operating hours to address both the needs of the gun clubs and the local needs of the community they impact. This would be no different than the other schedules that differ in the draft. If this is not the reason for the generous hours being provided to the gun clubs, it appears that the recreation of mainly out of township sports shooters supersedes that of the local residents. To me that is a travesty. I know there are a couple of people on council that want to do right for those that elected them. But that is only 2 or 3 votes out of seven.

As a resident and a taxpayer, I can only ask that this council to really think about this new bylaw and create legislation that is for the common good of all of Springwater and not just for a few that visit our community.

Kudos for council’s efforts, but it needs a little more work.