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County settles lawsuit with club
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A more than five-year feud over noise from gunfire has ended, with a controversial gun club staying put in southeastern Dawson County.

County commissioners voted 3-1 on Thursday to settle a lawsuit with Richard Becker, owner of Etowah Valley Sporting Clays.

According to the settlement, Becker will receive $275,000, which includes $150,000 he must use for noise abatement measures.

Those measures would be determined by a sound study, for which the sides will split the cost.

The decision came despite a last-ditch effort by Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix, who pushed to continue the legal battle.

Nix is the sole remaining voting commissioner from 2005, when the lease was awarded to the gun park.

"I know the history of this from way back. What a nightmare, heartache and headache it has been for the homeowners that it affected," she said. "It also affected Rock Creek.

"You can't enjoy the park without hearing the gun noise. I just want to ask you please ... let the courts decide."

A year after Etowah Valley Sporting Clays opened on about 150 acres off Hwy. 9, Becker was notified the county planned to terminate the lease over noise complaints from nearby residents. The legal battle followed.

Commissioner James Swafford, who suggested settling the lawsuit during the commission meeting, questioned the prior handling of the situation.

"I was not on the board at the time, but I do realize that sporting clay parks make noise," he said. "Noise is not something that is good in a residential community."

Noise, according to court rulings over the last few years, is also not a viable excuse to shut down a gun club.

"The state law is very plain. If you have a sporting clays park, noise is not a legal defense to shut them down," Swafford said. "The court has consistently ... ruled against the county."

Several residents who own property near the clay park attended the meeting, but declined to comment on the decision.

Swafford agreed that settling the suit was not going to make the noise issue go away.

"There's got be an end sometime. This is not the best end. It does provide those folks with hopefully some noise mitigation. I think that's a plus," Swafford said.

"Will it go away? I don't expect it to. But with the law against us, I think at some point and time, we're going to have to cut our losses. We spent way too much money already."

As it stands, the county has spent nearly $500,000 fighting the clay park in court, according to Commissioner Gary Pichon.

He estimates the cost could rise to as much as $1.5 to $5 million if the commission allowed the courts to decide the case.

"During this whole process the judges have ruled that Mr. Becker may have, could have, huge damage claims to the county," Pichon said.

He acknowledged the consequences of the settlement to people living around the site, but worried about the risks to the rest of the county of continuing the legal fight.

"I don't know how we reconcile those two things."

Commission Chairman Mike Berg was not at the meeting.

In a statement released by his attorney, George Butler, Becker said he was pleased with the agreement.

"Having previously suggested noise abatement as a way to resolve the complaints by our neighbors, Etowah Valley will enjoy working with the county government to further this end," he said.

"The upcoming sound-abatement study will assure the neighbors an improvement in overall sound quality and quantity-and it will be implemented as soon as possible."

Becker has also begun to move five of the shooting stations that were closest to residential area.