The tension has boiled over into a legal battle that Adrienne and Eugene Gartman hope will finally put an end to construction.

HOLT — A Shalimar attorney has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Holt couple who are seeking to stop construction of a large shooting range next to their property.

Michael Chesser, an attorney with Chesser and Barr, P.A., filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Okaloosa County on behalf of Adrienne and Eugene Gartman, who live on an 80-acre plot of land on Highway 90 in Holt.

The Gartmans allege that Southern Tactical Range, LLC, a shooting range under construction on a lot directly adjacent to theirs, is infringing on their right to feel safe on their personal property.

“The Defendants have no way to assure that stray bullets will not cross over or enter the Gartman property, or that stray bullets will not injure or kill family on the Gartman property,” the lawsuit alleges.

For its part, Southern Tactical says they are going above and beyond to ensure the proper safety measures are in place to protect their own land and surrounding properties.

“We have thought and planned this out systematically in terms of all the safety protocols and controls,” said Curtis Bolton, who co-owns the multi-million dollar range with his brother, Clay. “We are dumping a lot of money into this to make it successful, and not shut down next week.”

Now, after what the Gartmans say were “exhaustive efforts to prevent the development of the gun range,” the tension has boiled over into a legal battle that they hope will finally put an end to construction.

Safety concerns

The Gartmans, both retired military, purchased their plot of land in 1997 for $140,000, property appraiser records show. Eugene, who was also a general contractor and custom home builder, built their 6,593-square-foot home in 1998.

They have since added several barns, pastures and stables for their horses and cows, and say they have turned the property into something of an oasis for their children and young grandchildren.

“We built this place payday to payday,” Adrienne said one February morning while touring the property. “Our youngest granddaughter has spent countless hours training horses here.”

The Gartmans say their quiet, peaceful way of life was disturbed in late 2016, when Southern Tactical purchased the plot behind theirs and began clearing it. As the couple dug deeper into what was being built there, they say they were shocked when they learned it was a shooting range.

“I’m afraid to go in my backyard,” Eugene said. “When (the range) becomes operational, I won’t let my grandchildren go out and ride their horses. What do you think is going to stop a stray bullet from crossing over onto our property while they’re out there playing and riding?”

But Bolton says there’s “no chance” of anything like that happening. While touring the shooting range Thursday morning, the shooting enthusiast and first-time shooting range owner pointed to a series of 25-foot berms that he said were 5 feet taller than legally required.

“Even before we started, we hired a safety consultant and talked with military and law enforcement as to what they would like to see and how we can do this the right way,” Bolton said. “We are trying to be good neighbors.”

In shooting ranges, berms are ridges or embankments designed to be shot into from a certain distance. Southern Tactical plans to have ranges set at 100, 300, 600 and 1,000 yards, in addition to a sporting clay range, 25-yard pistol range, paintball fields and “wood ball” fields.

When designing the layout of the shooting range, Bolton said he engineered the berms to be higher than legally required and positioned them so shooting wouldn’t take place towards the Gartmans’ property or towards Interstate 10, which borders the shooting range on the other side.

He also said the ranges will abide by National Rifle Association guidelines, and that shooters will have to qualify in order to shoot from each of the ranges. Safety officers with military backgrounds will also be on hand to assist shooters, Bolton said.

Moving forward

In addition to their fear of stray bullets, the Gartmans are worried about possible lead contamination from the bullets seeping over into their property and water.

“The amount of ammunition that will be used on the gun range is enough to cause the Gartmans’ property to experience lead contamination, and to cause contamination of the water well on the Gartman property,” the lawsuit alleges. “The contaminated soil and water will harm the horses and cattle owned by the Gartmans, and the crops planted by the Gartmans will also be compromised.”

Eugene said he has spoken with specialists about the issue, and is certain that “it’s not a question of if, but when” his well gets contaminated with lead.

Bolton said he doesn’t see lead contamination being a problem as it’s in his economic interest to clear the property of bullets on a regular basis.

“The bullets will be collected with a tumbler of sorts, and then you collect the lead and you get paid for the weight,” he said.

The Gartmans are seeking $15,000 in damages, in addition to temporary and permanent injunctions stopping construction of the range. They are also seeking to have the range declared a “private nuisance.”

Their lawsuit cites their “fundamental property right” and says that right is “at least equal in importance to the right of a Florida citizen to enjoy the rights provided by the Second Amendment.”

“I’m not anti-gun and I’m not anti-Second Amendment,” Eugene said. “I just want to save my home and my property.”

Bolton said he plans to continue moving forward with construction and is letting his attorneys respond to the lawsuit. He hopes to have the paintball fields open in two weeks and the shorter shooting ranges open in as little as five weeks.

He added that he and his brother are excited to finally open the range.

“I’ve got daughters and he’s got sons, and we both wanted our kids to have something to do,” he said. “We’ll have something for men, women and kids of all ages, and it’s something for the community to do to stay active."

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