UNION, NJ — A Kenilworth resident who is suing Union, claims that an outdoor shooting range used by the police department is causing noise pollution, possible lead contamination and upsetting the animals at a nearby shelter.
Michael Klein filed suit in state Superior Court in June regarding the shooting range at 990 Jefferson Ave., which sits near the Union Animal Shelter behind The Home Depot on U.S. Route 22. The range is owned by the township and run by the Union Police Department.
“Why did you build a gun range next to a pet shelter?” Klein said in a phone interview on Thursday, Aug. 31. “Every time I go there, the animals are in distress.”
In an Aug. 31 interview, Union Police Director Daniel Zieser said his department and others use the shooting range, which has been there since the 1950s. A number of noise-cancellation measures have been put in place or are scheduled to be built this fall, he said.
“The gun range has been there since the ‘50s,” Zieser said. “They built the dog pound … that was put there afterwards. We just went through a whole new renovation. We upped the berms on all three sides and put up a new bullet-catching system.”
In addition to raising the dirt berms from 16 to 20 feet in 2015, trees are to be planted this fall around the range to mitigate noise, he added. A plywood wall with a roof over it will help to redirect the sound, too.
Klein said that only a makeshift gun range has been around since the 1950s, and that a new one was officially built in 2001, and was moved to a different part of the lot to where it sits now.
“It was a dirt field with a couple of barrels in the ‘50s,” Klein said, disputing that the range was already there when the animal shelter was built. “They’re in a different lot and they also went to the back corner of the lot. They used to be closer to Route 22.”
A worker who answered the phone at the animal shelter said the facility moved to its present location in the early 2000s.
Kris Cramer, an attendant at the shelter, said she is used to the sounds from the gun range, and that the dogs are mostly undisturbed by it, too. The shelter is not involved in the suit.
“They kind of ignore it,” Cramer said of the dogs. “You can hear it. It’s like a loud bang but it’s for a short period. It’s not too bad of a bother.”
Klein’s lawsuit also asks the township to implement a plan to prevent and clean up any possible lead pollution from bullets. He was concerned with where bullets were dumped, and whether any lead from them had contaminated a nearby Rahway River tributary.Zieser said lead bullets haven’t been used since the late 1970s, and sand that was once used on the range was cleaned out during renovations.
Port Authority police, the U.S. Marshals Service, Union police and other police departments in the county use the range, Zieser said. Twice a year, the county’s police academy recruits use the facility for training too, he said.
Klein was concerned about stray bullets that could possibly hurt people who traverse the area behin
d The Home Depot, where there is an open garden area, or at the animal shelter. The paved area also is used to access the Model Railroad Club building and other buildings.
“We support the police and we understand that [the range] is for training,” Klein said. “The problem is the noise and the safety issue. So if they can remedy that, we have no objections to that.”
He pointed to the death of a man reported at the animal shelter on April 18. However, that death was ruled a suicide, Zieser said, adding, “Nobody shot him.”
Klein is part of an unincorporated association known as Union, Kenilworth, Cranford Citizens, which he says was created about six months ago in response to issues at the shooting range. He said there are about 700 members or the organization.
A GoFundMe campaign was created by the group five months ago to cover the costs of litigation to “provide relief for the suffering pets” at the animal shelter and the community, with a goal of raising $10,000. As of press time, $45 has been raised.