EDEN VALLEY, MINN. – Rick and Tammy Kirkpatrick woke up one day and discovered their house was going to be on the target end of a gun range.
They haven't always slept well since.
"We've had such a nice, peaceful life," Rick Kirkpatrick said of the home where they've lived for 32 years, on a gravel road among farm fields about 2 miles outside this central Minnesota town. "Nobody bothers me here."
That may be changing. The Eden Valley Sportsman's Club is ready to open a full-service shooting range across the road from the Kirkpatricks' home. It includes a pistol range as well as trapshooting.
But it's the rifle range that has the couple upset. Their house is only about 125 yards from the end of the range.
It's not directly in line with the 300-yard rifle range, which terminates in a 10-foot-high earthen berm designed to absorb the shooters' bullets. But it's close enough, Rick Kirkpatrick said, that off-target shots could hit their home.
"I'm not a ballistics expert, but I've hunted all my life," said Kirkpatrick, explaining that a small error in aim could translate into a much wider miss downrange. He added that bullets from high-powered guns, such as .30-06 or .50-caliber weapons, could fly over the berm and hit traffic on a county road about a half-mile away.
After an inspection last fall, the county gave permission for the range to operate, but no shots have been fired yet as the Kirkpatricks and about a dozen neighbors challenge the county permit.
In a lawsuit filed in Meeker County District Court, they claim the Sportsman's Club has failed to live up to the terms under which the permit was granted, primarily by missing required deadlines to complete safety work on the project.
They also allege that the shooting range will endanger the safety of local residents and lower their property values, charges that the county called "bunk" in a court filing.
County officials declined to comment on the case, but their attorney called the neighbors' fight against the gun range permit "an exercise in futility."
"Really, all the conditions attached to the permit have been complied with," said Scott Anderson, a Minneapolis attorney who's representing the county.
"Everything's being done fine here according to what the standards of the law are," he said. "I'm confident that nothing improper has been done out at the range."
Anderson said the range design follows widely used guidelines from the National Rifle Association.
According to letters filed with the court, the range has the support of the Eden Valley Police Department (which has three officers), the local Scout troop and the high school FFA adviser.
Although the area is sparsely populated, with a handful of homes scattered hundreds of yards apart, most of the neighbors within earshot of the range have signed onto the lawsuit. That includes Lisa Thielen, whose land also sits across the road from the range.
Thielen said the entire process has felt "one-sided."
"When we went to the Planning Commission [meeting], it felt like some of the members had already made up their minds," she said. Neighbors asked to have some restrictions put on the permit, such as fewer days and shorter hours of operation, but were ignored, she said.
She's not against guns — in fact, her two children were both on the club shooting team at Eden Valley-Watkins Secondary School. But she worries about the safety of her nieces, nephews and grandchildren, who visit often.
And she fears that once the range is operating, it will draw too many shooters.
"It's a very rapidly growing sport," she said. "We moved to the country for peace and quiet."
Thielen worries that the range could be rented out to other groups as the Sportsman's Club, which has more than 200 members, seeks to pay off the $100,000 it paid for the land.
The Kirkpatricks said the permit process felt rushed, with scant notice to them and other residents. Anderson said that "all the proper notices were given. Hearings were held. Testimony and evidence was taken.
"And the fact is, sufficient information was put out by the Eden Valley Sportsman's Club showing that the range could be built in a safe way that would not endanger anyone or the environment. And because of that, it was approved."
The Sportsman's Club is eager to move ahead with completion of the range, said Keith Faber, the club treasurer.
"I just think it should have went through already," he said. "It's just kind of been a pain in the butt, that's for sure."
Rick Kirkpatrick, he added, is "just wasting our money and a little of his. I write the checks to the lawyer. At $300 to $400 an hour, it don't take long to run up a bill of $10,000 to $15,000."
Rick Kirkpatrick is a maintenance mechanic at a local factory, and Tammy Kirkpatrick makes jams, jellies and craft goods that she sells at local flea markets. The couple aren't swimming in cash.
"Do I look like I have a lot of money?" Rick Kirkpatrick asked with a laugh. "They didn't figure we'd fight it.
"I told them, I don't have much, but every penny I have will go to stopping you."
John Reinan • 612-673-7402