The Pitt Meadows Gun Club is taking fire from its neighbours who want it shut down over noise and potential lead contamination.
The club, located at 17428 – 129th Ave., Pitt Meadows, has been silenced since July.
Frank and Shelley Vogel live beside the club, in operation since 1946, and started investigating it when the sounds of shotguns at the trap and skeet ranges became more frequent, reaching what they considered nuisance levels.
When they learned the club was still using lead shot, which has been banned for hunting migratory birds in Canada, they took the matter to city hall.
The club has since been quiet.
Shelley said about nine neighbours have been involved, irritated that shooting, which formerly happened only for about nine hours a week, on Sundays and Wednesday evenings, had been extended to virtually any time, all weekend and any weeknight.
“None of us like it [the shooting], but they were here first,” she said of the club.
For 20 years, she has lived next to it. The club’s former executive used to bring her family a turkey and a ham each Christmas.
But the relationship between the club and its neighbours soured with increased shooting.
When the Vogels started investigating the club, they found that it was still shooting lead shot.
“We discovered this lead issue, and that horrified us all,” she said. “It’s so dangerous for kids, and it’s irreparable.”
In adults, lead poisoning can damage the brain and nervous system, the stomach, and the kidneys. Children under six are especially vulnerable, as lead can impact their mental and physical development.
Last year, the B.C. Wildlife Federation published best practices for outdoor shooting ranges.
The report noted: “Over the past several decades, public and regulatory concern towards lead has dramatically increased. As stated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the firing of lead shot has the potential to contaminate site soil, but it can also leach off-site into the air, steams, and drinking water. There is minimal risk of lead for people using the range, but the liability lies in lead’s ability to migrate off site.”
That report notes lead can dissolve in storm runoff or even be wind-driven through dust particles. It addresses controlling and containing lead, preventing its migration, reclaiming lead and documenting activities.
The Burnaby Gun Club on Burnaby Mountain had been operating since 1954, and when the city sought to return the ranges to park use it found lead and other contaminants at levels high enough to be designated hazardous waste, and the site became an environmental remediation project.
“There is no argument that hundreds of thousands of pounds of lead has been deposited on the property,” Frank Vogel told Pitt Meadows council at a June meeting.
“Where it is, and where it is going is the question.”
He noted the club’s property is surrounded on all sides by waterways, which are also used to irrigate crops on neighbouring farms, and that council should ask for an environmental assessment.
Council heard a verbal report from city staff about the gun club, and is waiting on more information in a written report.
Staff said the federal government is responsible for licensing the club and safety issues. The provincial Environment Ministry would deal with lead and soil contamination, and the city is responsible to investigate noise complaints.
There were previously issues around safety, as shot from the skeet range could fly off the site, so two of the stations on the skeet range were closed.
City bylaws measured decibels levels near the site, and found they did not exceed what is set out in the city noise bylaw.
The club website has a notice dated Sept. 1: “The Pitt Meadows Gun Club is currently closed due to unforeseen permitting needs, which we are waiting to be resolved shortly. We are currently moving forward in a positive direction, but unfortunately we do not have an exact re-opening date.”
Coun. Bill Dingwall, a retired RCMP officer with a lot of experience around gun ranges, was concerned the club appears to have been allowing shooting without an operating certificate, and he wanted council to look into health issues.
“I hope we do push that envelope in terms of soil contamination, leaching and that sort of thing that could be happening,” said Dingwall. “We need a deeper dive, by staff report, into this.”
John Cobb, a gun club member since 1970, told council that if lead contamination is a concern, it is a much wider concern than just at the gun club. The club operated at the Ridge Meadows BMX site in Pitt Meadows until 1976.
He said much of Pitt Meadows was farmland, which was roamed by hunters, and where farmers would use shotguns to keep starlings away from their crops.
“In the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, this area was a mecca for bird hunting,” Cobb told council. “There was four or five, maybe six Vancouver gun clubs located in this town that shot wild game from October until January all over this town.
“I’m not a chemist, but you’ve got a lot of lead in this town.”
He explained that steel shot is not a safe option for the club, because it travels further and could go outside the club boundaries.