Lawsuit triggers closing
The Moorhead Rod & Gun Club has been around since 1896.
But it may soon go the way of the flintlock and blunderbuss, all because some trees were cut down following the 1997 flood, according to Shawn Spears, club president.
The trees lined a creek between the club's shooting range and property belonging to American Crystal Sugar Co. north of Moorhead.
The two entities had co-existed in that area for about 60 years.
But after the local watershed district removed the trees to improve drainage, complaints from American Crystal increased, said Spears.
The gun club closed its shooting range in 2005, intending to reopen it after making changes suggested by a technical adviser certified by the National Rifle Association.
The work included enlarging earthen backstops.
When the gun club informed American Crystal last summer that it intended to resume shooting, the sugar beet cooperative filed a lawsuit in Clay County District Court seeking a permanent halt to the gunfire.
The suit has kept the shooting range closed.
And now, with its membership and finances diminished, the gun club is surrendering the legal battle as it moves to donate its shooting range to Oakport Township, which already uses the clubhouse as a meeting hall.
American Crystal claims in its suit that the shooting range has posed a threat for years.
"Stray bullets and shells have been fired onto American Crystal's property. On numerous occasions, American Crystal employees have narrowly avoided being hit by stray shells," the suit states.
Improvements made by the gun club were inadequate, according to the suit, which maintained that: "The only remedy remaining is to permanently cease operations of the gun club at that location."
Court papers filed by the gun club called Crystal Sugar's claims "sensational" and "patently false."
Gun club membership stood at approximately 325 in 2005.
It's now closer to 80, according to documents filed with the court.
The club has exhausted its legal war chest and has offered to give its property to Oakport Township, Spears said.
Greg Anderson, president of the township board, said an attorney is reviewing the plan for potential liabilities, but it's likely the donation will be accepted.
Creating a meeting hall that could be shared by a number of surrounding townships might be one use for the property, according to Anderson.
Jeff Schweitzer, American Crystal spokesman, said the company wouldn't comment much beyond what is contained in court papers.
He stressed, however, that Crystal Sugar took the action it did to protect its workers.
He said if the gun club property is given to Oakport Township and there is no more shooting on the site, Crystal Sugar will cease its legal action.
Al Rusch, a longtime member of the gun club, said he was disappointed by the lawsuit and its fatal effect on the shooting range.
"We did our best to accommodate everything American Crystal wanted," said Rusch.
Other firing ranges can be found, including one near Glyndon, Minn., and others near Horace and Casselton in Cass County, but Anderson said the shutdown of the Moorhead club will be felt.
"There is a void," he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555