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Lansing Rod & Gun Club

11 angry and frightened residents, many of whom wanted the Lansing Town Board to enforce a Stop Work Order to make the Lansing Rod & Gun Club cease clearing land that may become new shooting ranges, spoke about their fears that Ludlowville and the surrounding area is subject to lead poisoning.  Speakers said they feared for the health of their families and themselves, and also worried that leaving the area infested with lead and moving the shooting ranges would negatively impact their property values.  But Supervisor Ed LaVigne said that town officials acting prematurely might disqualify them from making a difference and put the town at risk.  He said that people should 'cool down' while Code Enforcement Officer Lynn Day investigates recent activity on club property.

"I must warn you this is a continuing investigation," LaVigne said. "One of the reasons we haven't responded to a lot of emails is that it's an ongoing investigation.  Anything that we would do prematurely as board members acting as the agent of the Town may actually hurt.  It doesn't mean we are ambivalent.  It doesn't mean we don't care.  We have to be thorough so when we do go forward, if we go forward, we're on solid ground."

LaVigne said that the Town is not prepared to issue a Stop Work order unless the investigation finds the gun club is violating zoning law, and Town Attorney Guy Krogh noted the Town may not have jurisdiction to enforce the terms of a consent order issued in 2016 by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Day reported he had walked the site earlier Wednesday and was scheduled to go again on Thursday.  He said that the work of clearing the area is not as extensive as aerial pictures may suggest, and noted there is no site plan application at this time.

"They started logging roughly about a week and a half or two weeks ago," Day reported. "Last weekend the club had a work session on removing and cutting down trees.  The Rod and Gun Club invited and had a DEC officer on their site Saturday during this meeting.  I've been in contact with the DEC about DEC and neighbors' concerns.  yesterday the Rod and Gun Club invited me to walk the site to see first hand what's going on, which is all part of this investigation.  At this point there has been no excavating, stump removal, trenching, etc.  I will be visiting the site again tomorrow to take a more detailed look at the site.  Fact finding is an important part of any investigation before any action is taken."

"I've written to several state representatives and they say they need to hear from this board in order to act," said Lansing residence Steven Smith.  The DEC seems to have some problems doing anything.  They have a lot of reasons not to be messing with gun clubs because there are so many that have a mass of lead cleanup.  They're just afraid of this whole situation."

The state and federal agencies received a lot of criticism from residents and town officials alike.  A plan to relocate shooting ranges on gun club property was crafted in response to a 2016 Consent Order issued to the club by the EPA.  The EPA mandated that shooting of lead permanently cease within 180 days, but the club could opt, instead, to implement a plan within 90 days that ensured shooting over Salmon Creek and nearby wetlands would cease.  An 'Environmental Stewardship Plan' was also required of the club.

"I find it rather unfathomable on many levels that the EPA needs the little Town of Lansing to actually follow up with the enforcement of RECRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act)," Krogh said. "The DEC needs a town to move forward on solid waste management facilities which they have exclusive jurisdiction on?  We're preempted from even regulating solid waste facilities?  OK, that doesn't make any sense to me, so when things don't make sense there are other motives in play."

Resident John Berger charged that it appears that public health is too much of a hot potato that the EPA and DEC don't want to confront the issue.

The Lansing Planning Board held a public hearing to consider issuing a special permit to relocate trap, rifle, and handgun ranges at the Lansing Rod and Gun Club on March 12, but the application for the permit  was withdrawn at the end of June.  Since that time town officials had no input from the club, which gun club attorney Michael Oropallo said in march was the club's plan in cooperation with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) order to stop shooting lead shot into Salmon Creek and nearby wetlands and prevent lead from entering those areas.

But what appeared to be a simple matter of relocating the ranges to protect Salmon creek from lead poisoning raised more concerns than it addressed.  The Planning Board requested specific information that they never received.  And residents continued to be alarmed about new and existing lead that may be contaminating Salmon Creek and the hamlet of Ludlowville.

"In terms of the lead issue as a toxin and as a hazard the science is in," argued Berger. "It doesn't matter who you are.  You could be the person shooting the gun and you're still going to be exposed to that.  We've taken' lead out of gasoline.  We've taken lead out of paint.  Bullets, on the other hand, are made almost entirely of lead, so somebody could say, 'if you take the lead out of a bullet then you can't use bullets.  But that's obviously an absurd argument.  There are perfectly good alternatives to shooting lead.  this is such a high bar and seemingly such an obvious thing to do that to discuss it is almost absurd."

Lila Stone gave a chilling account of lead poisoning in her family, which she attributed to small amounts of lead in the ground and air on her property.  She said that within a year of purchasing her Ludlowville home her six month old son contracted lead poisoning.  She and her family went to great lengths and spent thousands of dollars to responsibly mitigate the danger, but her other son and finally Stone herself contracted lead poisoning.  She said the level of lead in her blood was so high that she still has it in her system today, even though she contracted it seven years ago.  She added that the problem caused so much stress in her marriage that it led to divorce.

"I'm a real story of what lead poisoning is," she said. "I know that these are small doses, but my son's dose was so small, but all he had to do was breathe it into his lungs and that's what it took.  What level is too small?  How can anyone be allowed to put toxins into the environment when there's a choice to use a different kind of bullet?  How can that be an ethically and morally responsible choice for anyone to make?  When I think that we've taken such care of the environment to not put lead into it and my sons can go down to swim at Ludlowville Falls, and someone is actively shooting to put lead in the environment when there are other choices -- it seems like a blasphemy against humanity to me.  How can anyone let this be?  Ten years of this struggle."

The issue that gun clubs across the nation are facing is that lead cleanup is very, very expensive.  While it appears the club is rejecting options like shooting steel bullets, and shooting screens that would catch bullets, and periodic cleanup of new lead shot, actual cleaning up of existing lead in the ground, water, and air has not, apparently, been contemplated.

Nobody at Wednesday's meeting spoke in favor of the gun club project.

Lisa Ruzicka, whose home is near the site of the proposed shooting range, said she wants to know if the shooting ranges are moved near her home that the Town is going to do something to keep us safe.

"I will do everything in my power to keep you safe," LaVigne replied. "That's what I can promise you.  There is no reason why any citizen should feel unsafe in their home.  On the other hand, addressing the Rod & Gun Club, I hope, at the end of the day, that some positives come out for both sides.  For many years they have been into conservation.  Right now there are a lot of black clouds floating around.  I hope when this is all settled that we still can coexist and not have permanent issues.  Please, just be calm right now and we'll try to address this as fast as we can."

Councilman Joe Wetmore said said it is incumbent on the Town to warn residents that swimming at Ludlowville Falls could result in lead poisoning if tests demonstrate it is contaminated, and to close the area to swimmers if that turns out to be the case.  But the Board was somewhat stymied by its lack of jurisdiction in environmental enforcement.  Town Attorney Guy Krogh suggested the Board ask for help from the New York State Department of Environmental Protection to investigate whether the area is actually contaminated, and, if so, how badly.

Krogh warned that town officials making premature statements one way or the other would effectively and ethically eliminate themselves from consideration of the issue, possibly causing due process, equal protection, and ethical issues that could make the Town liable.  He said he is comfortable with a general statement that the Town would like DEC and EPA to enforce the law, but not at all comfortable with town officials taking a firm position before it's own investigation is even closed.

"What the Town says, it has to say carefully, because we cannot prejudge, and therefore precluse ourselves from reviewing whatever application does come up," Krogh advised. "If a ZBA, Town Board or Planning Board member -- people who may, in fact in the very near future to be called upon to review an application -- if the Town crosses certain lines, takes certain positions, makes certain admissions, presents by its very position a predetermination of the issue or an inability to judge an application fairly, then we have some very basic due process problems, and you will have recusing issues.  Those who speak out most loudly are going to be those who ethically must remove themselves from not just voting on the issue, but even discussing the issue."

The Board conducted other work while Krogh reviewed the Consent order and crafted a resolution that would ask the EPA to enforce its consent order, and asking the New York State Department Environmental Protection (DEC) assistance in performing lead testing up and down stream from the club, including Ludlowville Falls.  The resolution empowered Krogh to compose letters to the agencies in response to resident's insistence that the state and federal agencies would not act without support from the local government.

Krogh read the resolution aloud: "The Town of Lansing hereby resolves as follows: 1 The Town Attorney with the advise and consent of the Town Board and the Code Enforcement Officer shall draft letters to EPA and DEC as follows.  2 DEC shall be asked 1) to do air testing in the vicinity of Lansing Rod & Gun Club (LRG) 2) do soil and water testing in the vicinity of LRG up and downstream of the LRG site and at Ludlowville Falls. 3) delineate wetlands in the vicinity of LRG.  3 EPA shall be notified of the town support of enforcement of the existing consent order with recognition that the consent order is non-final, perhaps expired and not to be extended, and subject to amendment pursuant to intervening facts and new information as it arises. 4 The Town notes that it still awaits application from LRG relative to land use changes and the review of the existing lawful or unlawful non-conforming use, and reserves its right to supplement recommendations as further investigation, facts and applications arise or are submitted for consideration or review."

The Town Board unanimously passed the resolution.  LaVigne asked Day to present the findings of his investigation at the next Town Board meeting on September 19th.  LaVigne said that would also give town officials time to craft an informed response to the issue.

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