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Neighbors sue Ashland Gun Club

Three neighbors have sued the Ashland Gun Club and the city of Ashland, alleging that lead ammunition is contaminating the environment and stray bullets are striking one of their properties.

Cathy DeForest, her husband, Leon Pyle, and Dr. Edward Kerwin filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Medford on Dec. 23.

They are represented by attorney Tom Dimitre, who is also chairman of the Rogue Group Sierra Club.

The gun club has operated on city-owned land east of the Ashland Municipal Airport since the 1960s. It has a lease agreement with the city for use of the site.

DeForest and Pyle own a 5,085-square-foot 2007 home on 13 acres on Emigrant Creek Road southeast of the Ashland Gun Club, according to Jackson County records.

Kerwin built a 19,045-square-foot house on 56 acres on Dead Indian Memorial Road to the north of the gun club in 2004, according to county records.

The gun club's various shooting ranges generally point to the north and northeast. Kerwin alleges that bullets are striking his property.

Pyle said this week that he can't discuss the lawsuit at this point. DeForest and Kerwin were each out of town and unavailable for comment.

City Attorney David Lohman said he cannot discuss the lawsuit in detail.

But he said city officials worked hard to incorporate environmental safeguards when they renegotiated a lease with the gun club in 2011.

Among other provisions, the lease tasks the gun club with regularly cleaning up lead on the property. It also places the responsibility for final lead cleanup on the club should it cease operations at the site.

The city of Ashland is also paying $113,080 for lead testing of the grounds.

The neighbors' lawsuit targets the city, gun club and seven past and present members of the club's board of directors — including city Finance and Administrative Services Director Lee Tuneberg.

Gun Club President Mike LaNier, who was not named in the lawsuit, said the club has cleaned lead shot and bullets from the ranges for years.

"We think the lawsuit is a simple attempt by Dr. Kerwin and the Sierra Club to cause trouble," he said.

The lawsuit contends that activities at the gun club are violating a number of environmental laws, including federal laws to protect water and endangered species.

The lawsuit states that the defendants are polluting nearby Emigrant Creek and its connected wetlands, which threatens coho salmon habitat. They are also contaminating the ground, the lawsuit says.

Gun Club ranges point toward Emigrant Creek, away from Emigrant Creek Road.

The lawsuit states that the city has added to problems on the land by dumping street sweeper debris near Emigrant Creek.

It says that the gun club also represents a noise nuisance because of the sound of gunfire.

The neighbors are asking a judge to block activities at the club that violate environmental laws, to require the defendants to pay for soil and water sampling arranged by the plaintiffs and to pay for any needed environmental restoration.

The neighbors also want the defendants to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines for every day they allegedly violated the Clean Water Act — dating back for decades.

They also want payments for attorney's fees, costs, mental anguish and other damages.

The Ashland Police Department, an Ashland-based National Guard unit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory, National Park Service rangers, hunter's education classes, Boy Scout troops and others use the gun club facilities along with gun club members.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

Skeet shooters practice at the Ashland Gun Club Wednesday. In the background is the home of Dr. Edward Kerwin, one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit alleging that lead ammunition from the club is contaminating the environment. - Jamie Lusch