BLUE EARTH - Four citizens spoke out Tuesday against an outdoor recreational and educational facility north of Easton, saying the gunfire is unbearable and has them fearing for their lives.
Faribault County commissioners approved a conditional use permit for the facility.
The facility is run by Thomas and Robert Loonan of Lura Township. It hosts outdoors, firearms and hunting events for a range of enthusiasts, including youth and women.
These events bother several neighbors.
Jay Jeiberian lives 1,300 feet away.
"That seems long, but when you have people shooting shotguns toward your house, it's past the point of ridiculous," he said. "I don't want them shooting at my house."
Robin Sullivan lives in the Jeiberian house.
"The kids won't go to bed because they're scared," she said. "I think it's ridiculous. I don't feel safe in my own house. My kids don't feel safe."
Sharon Swenson lives across the road.
"I'm afraid to be outside when the shooting is going on," she told the board. "I too am afraid for my safety, even to go to the end of the driveway to get the mail."
She said she doesn't pick up the mail when the guns can be heard.
"My husband works outside and his life is in danger," Sharon Swenson said. "I don't feel safe in my own house. Bullets go through glass."
She said the noise is loud and can be heard as late as midnight. She said there are already two gun ranges in Faribault County, in Wells and Huntley. She asked the board to deny the permit.
Swenson's husband, Larry, also spoke. He said he is a lifelong, "12-month-a-year resident" of Easton.
"Too close, too loud and too dangerous," is how he summed up the situation with the facility.
"Should my wife be afraid to go to the mailbox?" he asked. "Should the Jeibarian kids be afraid?
"If we don't get peace, enjoyment and value off our homes, action will be taken," he promised.
Thomas Loonan attended the meeting and explained the topography of the site, and how the lay of the land and trees restrict the directions in which they can shoot.
"In the years there is corn in the field, we are unable to shoot to the north," Loonan said. "Then we do shoot to the southwest direction. For gun training, we do shoot to the north."
Commissioner John Roper expressed concern for the neighbor children, saying they should be able to rest.
Commissioner Tom Loveall said shooting should end at 6 p.m., and neighbors should be notified 10 days before an event takes place.
The Planning and Zoning board examined the situation for quite a while, said Bill Schaible, who serves on the board. He said there are issues about the direction of the shooting because of a driveway that approaches the property.
Commissioner Bill Groskreutz asked how many people participate in the events. The number varies, Loonan said, from 50 kids for hunter education to fewer for other events.
Groskreutz made a motion to amend the conditional use permit, stating there must be one adult supervisor for every four kids.
"Just a safety aspect," Groskreutz said.
Loonan had no problem with that stipulation, since there are usually at least that many adults present, including people helping with events and parents.
The conditional use permit passed on a 4-0 vote.
"Maybe we can all try real hard to make it work together," Loveall said.
The events have been taking place on the property for a number of years, said Michele Stindtman, program administrator for Faribault County Soil and Water, adding that she has been working on the permit since October.
"This is a really difficult one," she said Tuesday afternoon.
It's legal for landowners to use their property as they see fit, Stindtman noted.
"I can't tell you [that] you can't have your family out to your house for Christmas," she said.
If a gathering includes lots of target shooting and other noise, it doesn't fall under the jurisdiction of Soil and Water.
"A wild party goes to the sheriff," Stindtman said.
A conditional use permit comes into play usually because someone asks if they need one or if a complaint is lodged. This time it was a complaint, Stindtman confirmed.
A business, such as a bed and breakfast, needs a conditional use permit. The Loonans' situation is not so clear-cut, she said.
"It's not a rifle range, not really a business," Stindtman said. "A business doesn't necessarily have to have an exchange of money."
She confirmed that the Loonans do not charge for the events.
Even though the Loonan site is not considered a business, the board felt action was needed.
"The board recognized they needed to set parameters," Stindtman said, "and I think they did a good job of that."
The conditional use permit is held in conjunction with the land, but will be revisited in two years for a compliance inspection, Stindtman said.