St. Clair County taxpayers could end up spending close to $2 million to compensate the Caseyville Rifle and Pistol Club for improvements made there if the county prevails in an eminent domain hearing next week.
County leaders want to seize and shut down the club because, they argue, the shooting range's location in the glide path of planes landing and taking off at Scott Air Force Base aircraft constitutes a public hazard.
In preparation for the Nov. 8 hearing in St. Clair County Circuit Court, the County Board passed a resolution Monday night authorizing State's Attorney Robert Haida and a law firm hired by the county to use eminent domain to seize the 32-acre site.
The County Board also approved a related measure Monday to ask a judge to issue an injunction to shut down the firing range.
The board approved the measure 18 days after Harry Sterling, the gun club's lawyer, filed a response to the county's eminent domain lawsuit.
One of the defenses Sterling cited was the county's failure up to that point to pass a resolution authorizing a request for a court injunction, court papers show.
Neither move impressed Randy Seper, the gun club's president.
"I don't think it's going to help them," Seper said of the eminent domain resolution. "I was under the impression they had to do that before they sued me."
Haida declined to comment on the resolutions. Before the vote Monday, he urged the board to approve them because they "put the case in the best possible strategic position," he said.
The Nov. 8 eminent domain hearing will center on a central question to be answered by Associate Judge James Radcliffe: Does the club's location pose a public danger?
To Seper, the answer is obvious.
"If we believed there was any danger, we wouldn't allow people to shoot," he said.
Seper and Mascoutah City Manager Terry Draper agree that senior Air Force officers did not voice their opposition to the gun range until after the Mascoutah City Council approved its location in March 2005.
"Our position is that dialogue about how it was inappropriate took place after the approval by the council," Draper said.
If the county wins its eminent domain case, then it would be obligated to pay fair market value for the property, which could be determined either through negotiations or the decision of a jury after a court trial.
Improvements to the site include $334,000 in grading and the construction of berms, $107,000 for the construction of a new building, $68,628 for engineering and architectural costs and more than $400,000 for the construction of covered shooting positions, according to papers filed by Sterling.
Other costs push the club's total investment in the site to around $2 million, Seper said.