Maplewood residents decry noise from St. Paul police gun range

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG
  • Star Tribune
  • January 29, 2013 - 9:38 PM

St. Paul police officials told a group of concerned Maplewood residents Tuesday that the department is taking steps to muffle noise from its outdoor gun range in Maplewood and will continue to explore other options.

It was the first time residents heard about concrete plans to modify the gun range at 2621 Linwood Av., west of Century Avenue S. Concerned citizens have been meeting with police and Maplewood city officials for a year to discuss the noise, which some said has gotten considerably worse in recent years.

St. Paul Police Cmdr. Mary Nash told about a half-dozen residents that the department will install 16-feet-high concrete walls in the range that will act like highway sound barriers. It's unclear when work on the walls will begin, but they are expected to be completed this year.

"We are here because we want to work with the neighborhood," said Assistant St. Paul Police Chief Kathy Wuorinen.

John Donofrio has lived about 200 yards from the range for 16 years and said the noise has gotten worse as more agencies began using it, and as authorities moved to more high-powered rifles.

"We knew it was there," Donofrio said. "There's no argument about that. The use of the range, the kind of equipment they use, has definitely changed. Somewhere, there needs to be a trade-off."

St. Paul police have used the range since the mid-1940s. It's owned by Ramsey County, and the city signed a 100-year lease for it in 1974. About 34 other agencies also use it on occasion, including Maplewood police, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Donofrio said sometimes the noise is so loud residents can't comfortably talk outside. It forces him to keep his windows shut, but the glass vibrates, he said.

Lyn Bockert lives about a quarter-mile away and helped develop many of the homes nearby. She said some days it's difficult to work from home because of the noise.

"It's just constant," Bockert said. "I can't stand it. I get up and go shopping. I do something else."

A study conducted last September by a Massachusetts-based consultant showed that the range did not violate Minnesota noise pollution laws, but residents said something still needs to be done.

Jason Hou, who lives the closest to the range of any resident, said he was skeptical of the consultant's findings. Hou noted that one test area was shown to "marginally comply" with state sound limits, and that another area was complicated by traffic noise that threw off the true measurement of range noise.

The study, conducted by consultant Erich Thalheimer, who is certified by the Institute for Noise Control Engineering, offered a number of steps police could voluntarily take to reduce noise: restrict times when officers can shoot, restrict the types of firearms that can be fired, use suppressors to quiet firearms, provide residential soundproofing such as triple-glazed windows and solid doors, plant tree barriers, build berms or erect shooting shed enclosures.

Nash and Wuorinen said that since they took over responsibility for the range three years ago they've limited the days and times high-powered rifles are fired, and that weekends are off-limits to any shooting. Wuorinen said the department also wants to better alert residents when shooting is to occur.

The range is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. year-round. Wuorinen said the city would explore whether plantings could help, and that the city plans to seek $6.5 million from the state for a new indoor gun range that would alleviate some use of the outdoor range. Even if the project is approved in the legislative bonding bill, it won't eliminate the outdoor range because outdoor practice is required.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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