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W'md Board of Supervisors addresses O'Gara questions

Noisy rapid fire shooting from the O'Gara range sparked comment when the Westmoreland Supervisors met this Monday. During the discussion it was revealed that the site plan governing O'Gara Group's range activities was amended to allow the tactical security training establishment to engage in range activities on weekends.

Nomini Creek resident Margaret Quinn told supervisors she had been tasked with addressing the subject on behalf of others who had been disturbed by O'Gara's recent shooting activities.

Quinn's husband, Bob, was first to speak when the board opened the March 14 meeting's public comment segment. He did not immediately address the noise disturbances, but encouraged the supervisors to arrange a meeting in which O'Gara Group would report directly to members of the local government and public.

Recalling the promises of economic development and tax base enhancements associated with O'Gara Group's determination to locate in Westmoreland, Bob Quinn encouraged the supervisors to arrange a meeting in which O'Gara representatives would have an opportunity to meet with private citizens and discuss the benefits their presence has generated.

"We were told there would be economic development and other benefits," Quinn stated. "People would like to know about the number of jobs and the amount of revenue O'Gara has contributed. People would like to know how O'Gara is helping Westmoreland County."

Bob Quinn additionally asked if O'Gara Group intends to move forward with its 2008 plans to purchase the county's unoccupied industrial shell building.

County Administrator Norm Risavi immediately addressed the shell building question, advising that "the county attorney and O'Gara's attorney are working on a [sales] contract.

"When everything is in place, the [Industrial Development Authority] will schedule a meeting and approve the sale," Risavi stated.

Risavi then related that O'Gara Group and members of the county government have already engaged in discussions about an informational session with private citizens.

"They say they are willing to meet with the public,” he said. “Right now O'Gara is still working on some things that need to be taken care of first."

Board Chairman Woody Hynson contributed to the discussion with additional detail. As has been previously reported in these pages, O'Gara Group is in the process of moving some of its training and manufacturing operations into the former Arrowhead plant that it recently acquired. With intentions that include acquisition of the industrial shell building, O'Gara Group is having to decide which operations will be housed in which facility.

"We want to give O'Gara a chance to get the shell building [transaction] straight and what they're going to put in it," Hynson commented. "The meeting you want with O'Gara won't happen in a 30-day period, but it's something that is definitely in the works. I agree we need to have that meeting. It's something we are going to do."

Margaret Quinn was the next speaker who approached the podium.

"There's been a lot of [shooting] noise from the O'Gara site," she said.

"Two weeks ago people called Zoning Administrator Robert Fink, County Administrator Norm Risavi and the Westmoreland Sheriff's Office to complain about the noise. I'm here today representing combat veterans, people with small children and others who found it a constant annoyance."

Margaret Quinn then noted that she and others previously believed O'Gara Group's range activities were limited to an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekday timeline. That expectation was rooted in approved site plan restrictions and a judicial order, she told the county supervisors. The objectionable volleys lasted until almost 7 p.m. that Sunday evening.

Risavi told Quinn his office was aware of that weekend's O'Gara shooting range activities and had received as many as eight complaints from unhappy residents.

"I spoke with [O'Gara Group Tactical Training Director] James Noe, and he is aware that some protocols weren't being followed," Risavi said. "It is going to be corrected. They were shooting yesterday," on Sunday, March 13.

""I couldn't hear anything [yesterday]. Either I have poor hearing or [corrections were in place]."

The disturbances Quinn referenced could be heard in the interior of homes along the waterfront as far away as the Lower Machodoc and Glebe creeks. On Nomini Creek the volleys reportedly disturbed a sleeping baby in a neighborhood as far upstream as Prospect Bridge.

During the discussion Fink made it known that he had allowed the site plan that governs range activities to be amended in order to ease previously contemplated operational restrictions. He advised that his office was not required by law to provide the public with notice of the amendment(s).

"What about the judicial order that limited range operations to eight to five Monday through Friday?" Margaret Quinn then queried.

Zoning Administrator Fink and County Attorney Tom Bondurant both replied that the language in the referenced court document was a recitation and not an order.

"It was recited and dismissed," Tom Bondurant explained.

"The site plan doesn't prohibit shooting on any weekend day, but Monday through Friday is normal, with occasional use on weekends," Fink told Margaret Quinn.

Quinn asked Fink to provide her with a copy of the amended site plan language and then criticized the local government for not doing enough to protect the interest of the local residents.

"It appears you have allowed O'Gara to shoot and disturb our people anytime they want," Margaret Quinn stated.

"The objectionable shooting began early that Sunday morning and went on until just before 7 p.m. It woke up sleeping babies, a combat veteran was in tears and nobody cares. A lot of these people will probably move away from Westmoreland County due to the O'Gara noise.

"Allowing this to happen is wrong," Quinn further noted. "These are people who spent a lot of money because they wanted to live in the area. O'Gara should be fined, and the fine should be doubled every time they disturb a sleeping baby."

"It's being looked into," Chairman Hynson commented.

"I don't want O'Gara disturbing people, either. I think we can figure out how to handle this. Give us a little time and we'll have it under control."

Vice Chairman Darryl Fisher suggested that the noise problem was aggravated by removal of trees from a previously forested area adjacent to the O'Gara site.

"The people who clear-cut that property were looking at dollars and cents," the District 1 Supervisor said.

Nomini Creek resident Kennon Morris weighed in, noting that his home is situated near the mouth of the creek.

"The noise was pretty rank that Sunday," he advised.

Resident Bill Alverson criticized the county government's failure to institute more appropriate controls.

"It's ironic how you went about it," Alverson began.

"Who tells O'Gara when they can and cannot shoot? O'Gara tells you what they're going to do and then they do it. All of this really burns me up. O'Gara isn't supposed to be telling you. You're the ones who are supposed to be running Westmoreland County," Alverson told the members of the Board. "You should tell O'Gara what to do instead of them telling us!"

District 2 Supervisor Russ Culver responded to the criticisms with a comment that efforts are in process to remedy the problem.

"Norm Risavi did a lot of research on the problem and O'Gara didn't follow the protocols that Sunday. Norm went there yesterday when they were shooting. He made sure the protocols were followed yesterday."

That comment ended the discussion.

Betsy Ficklin
the Journal

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