By Ben Moger-Williams
The public will soon have a chance to fire off some opinions on proposed changes to Williston’s firearms discharge ordinance. At Monday’s Selectboard meeting, the board moved to hold a public hearing to discuss changes suggested by the Williston Conservation Commission. In essence the changes would open up some town-owned land to hunting, and make it easier for people to hunt on their own land. But it would also mean allowing hunting within 10 feet of some public roads.
It is currently illegal to discharge a firearm north of Interstate 89 in Williston, except for a small area in the northeast of town. South of the Interstate is mostly open to hunting, but as the current ordinance reads, guns may not be fired within 500 feet of any buildings, roads, trails or “public park or recreation area.” The commission is proposing changes to the ordinance to allow hunters access to some municipal lands south of I-89, and to shorten the distance from roads and trails that guns may be used.
A memo presented to the Selectboard on Monday by the commission and Environmental Planner Carrie Deegan argues that the 500-foot restriction is unfair to hunters because it applies to public trail easements on privately owned land and is much stricter than the state law.
“The WCC does not feel it is appropriate (or legal) to restrict hunting on private lands,” the memo reads. “This should be the decision of each individual landowner. In addition, 500’ from a public road seems an excessive distance when state standards allow hunting within 10’ of any roadway.”
The proposed changes would keep the 500-foot rule as it applies to buildings, but would allow firearms to be discharged 10 feet away from public roads, and 100 feet from marked trails on town-owned land. The changes prohibit firing across any road or trail, and also give the Selectboard the authority to prohibit shooting on any municipal land.
Greg Paulman, who teaches a hunter safety course in Williston, has been encouraging the commission to pursue the changes. Paulman said in a phone interview that the new rules will not compromise safety, but will lay out guidelines so that hunters and hikers alike can enjoy the public land.
“Essentially what the Conservation Commission has done is they’ve clarified some rules so that there will actually be an enforceable ordinance on town owned land that allows for people to hunt and lets other people using the land know there is hunting going on,” Paulman said.
Selectman Andy Mikell said at the meeting he was “unlikely to support” the changes.
“I’m all for recreational purposes but citizen safety is first and foremost,” Mikell said. “Let’s hear from the public and see what they want.”
The board said it would run the changes by legal counsel and schedule a hearing after that.
The board also decided to change how it takes minutes at its meetings. Currently a clerk writes down summaries of the discussions at the meetings, and also records the motions and decisions made and who was present. State law requires the minutes to record the list of board members present, names of other active participants, all motions, proposals and resolutions made, what action was taken and the results of votes.
The board voted unanimously to change the format of minutes to include just the bare minimum. However, Town Manager Rick McGuire said the board would also begin digitally recording the meetings and burning them onto CD to archive.
McGuire recorded Monday’s meeting himself, but said Wednesday that the clerk, Chris Wrobel, would likely take over that responsibility. McGuire said the recordings will also be divided into different tracks according to agenda items.