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North Carolina county officials ignore military training site complaints, lawsuit says

Judge gavel, scales of justice and law books in court (BrianAJackson/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

Nine people filed a lawsuit on Monday in Richmond County against two local governments and a military training center in hopes of stopping major disruptions they say the facility brings to their lives.

Neighbors and their families have been complaining to local officials for more than a year about commotion from the Oak Grove Technologies training center.

The cracking report of rifles and other firearms from there regularly fills the air on Rushing Road in Hoffman, the plaintiffs say. Explosions from Oak Grove are so intense that they have knocked items off walls and damaged homes’ foundations, they say.

Hoffman is a town of about 800 people, some 15 miles northeast of Rockingham, where 65% of residents are Black, according to the 2020 Census. Rushing Road sits just outside town limits, where residents and their families have lived for generations.

In 2014, Raleigh-based Oak Grove Technologies opened its training center on Rushing Road, which the company says it uses to train people working for the military and law enforcement.

Local landowner Rod Brower said the company initially was willing to communicate with neighbors to notify them of when the shooting would occur, but more recently has been unwilling to work with them to reduce disturbances from the facility.

Being sued are Richmond County, including county Planning Director Tracy Parris, the town of Hoffman, and Oak Grove Technologies.

Brower, who leads the Hoffman-Marston Concerned Citizens group, which filed the suit, had to move his mother, 78, who wears a pacemaker, away from her home on Rushing Road because they felt the unannounced shooting and explosions were bad for her heart. The noise was also terrorizing her dogs, he said.

“I just would love to be able to enjoy our property down here without it sounding like a battle zone,” said Brower.

The explosions have ramped up in recent weeks and the noise, along with the unpredictability, makes it difficult to have a peaceful life, said neighbor Bill Swann, who lives a few hundred feet from the training facility. Sometimes people are shooting guns at the facility until 10 p.m., residents say.

Neither Oak Grove Technologies nor Richmond County officials returned calls or emails seeking comment.

Hoffman Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Kelly initially deferred questions about the lawsuit to an attorney representing the town, but then said that he’s been affected by the training facility, too.

Kelly said he lives across US Highway 1 from Rushing Road and the training center, and that his house sometimes shakes from explosions at Oak Grove.

“It used to happen real bad on Sunday, during the church service,” Kelly said. “Sometimes it don’t sound like gunshots, it sounds like something exploding.”

The plaintiffs claim Oak Grove is operating the facility under an invalid permit. Records show that the conditional use permit, which Richmond County granted Oak Grove in 2014, lists a parcel identification number that is not in the county’s system.

Oak Grove’s 2014 permit appears to have been at least partially copied from a 2011 permit issued to the company by Richmond County for a different property, more than a mile from the Rushing Road training facility.

Because of those problems with the permit, the plaintiffs are asking for the training facility to be shut down until Oak Grove can get a permit with the correct property information. If the court sides with plaintiffs, Oak Grove could be forced to restart the permitting process, which would mean another public hearing before the county board of adjustments.

During the 2014 permitting process, Richmond County held a public hearing for the training facility, but no one showed up to speak in opposition to the permit being granted, the plaintiffs acknowledge. Military and law enforcement training on Rushing Road began soon after, the complaint says.

Plaintiffs are also asking that a jury compel the town of Hoffman to produce copies of its ordinances and an official zoning map, since the plaintiffs say part of the Oak Grove property is within Hoffman’s borders.

On Monday, Kelly said the Hoffman town board had been discussing passing a noise ordinance, after Brower and his group addressed the board in September.

Before filing the lawsuit, Brower said he and the other plaintiffs tried to discuss their problems with the county, the town and Oak Grove. After failing to have productive conversations with any of the parties, Brower said they felt they didn’t have a choice but to sue.

Attorney Randy Herman walked the complaint into the Richmond County Judicial Center just after 11 Monday morning, before taking the lawsuit to the sheriff to serve the parties.

Herman said the county, the town and Oak Grove will have 30 days to respond to the complaint once they are served, which he expects to happen this week. Herman said the case will likely bleed well into next year.

Brower said he’s been disappointed in the response from town and county officials to the plight of the residents of Rushing Road.

“The fact they don’t live next to this place, they didn’t have to move anyone away,” he said. “It’s frustrating because you’d think public officials would be more in tune with the people’s needs in their county.”


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