April 21, 2018

Lead Free Williston reloads in gun club controversy

The easternmost shooting station of the North Country Sportsman’s Club (far right) has been decommissioned as part of an environmental stewardship plan on file with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. The club’s primary five-stand shooting station (center) will be relocated so that it faces away from the headwaters of a Sucker Brook tributary. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation has approved an environmental stewardship plan for the North Country Sportsman’s Club, but a group of local residents are dissatisfied, claiming it doesn’t do enough to improve the quality of waters and soils contaminated by lead shot from the Williston shooting range.

Protests over the shooting practices of NCSC have been spearheaded by Mona and Leo Boutin, whose Old Creamery Road property abuts the gun club. The Boutins were instrumental in forming Lead Free Williston, a group dedicated to improving the water quality of Sucker Brook, which flows through both the NCSC and Boutin properties.

At a Sept. 20 media event organized by Lead Free Williston, Mona Boutin argued that the environmental stewardship plan (ESP) submitted by NCSC is inadequate. She further maintained that the club has yet to submit a secondary work plan for the ESP, which was one of the conditions of approval outlined by George Desch, director of the DEC’s Waste Management and Prevention Division.

“While the gun club has submitted an environmental stewardship plan to the DEC, it does not satisfy the requirements of the state Superfund law for investigating and remediating the lead contamination documented in Sucker Brook,” Boutin said in a prepared statement. “The ESP only deals with operational changes on the gun club property. It does nothing to identify the extent of the lead pollution emanating from the soil, or what needs to be done to clean it up.”

A copy of the ESP, provided to the Observer by NCSC President Tom Blair, states that the easternmost of the club’s three shooting stations was discontinued in January 2012, due to its shot fall zone being too close to the headwaters of a Sucker Brook tributary. It also outlines plans to relocate the club’s primary five-stand shooting station so that it is oriented in a northwesterly direction, away from Sucker Brook.

However, the ESP also notes that “preliminary investigations with lead reclamation contractors have determined that, at this time, full reclamation of lead from the shot fall zone would be cost prohibitive.”

Blair, who was not invited by the Boutins to the Sept. 20 press conference, said in an interview that NCSC is complying with the state’s conditions.

“The Boutins, through their efforts over the last couple of years, were the ones who involved DEC and who asked DEC to intercede on their behalf,” Blair said. “They finally were successful in doing that, and I guess if they don’t like the outcome, then I would have to say that they should take that up with DEC.”

Tami Wuestenberg, a DEC environmental analyst, doesn’t entirely agree with Blair’s characterization, telling the Observer in an interview that NCSC hasn’t supplied a formal work plan for the ESP.

“I have lots of correspondence between the gun club and us, reminding them that they still need to do the second branch of work,” Wuestenberg said.

Yet Wuestenberg also observed that NCSC has made forward strides through the environmental stewardship plan.

“What we’re really happy with is there’s no additional shot going anywhere near the tributary anymore,” she said. “It’s a small club, and I have faith that they’re going to do the right thing. I think they’re working to the best of their ability.”

At the same time, Wuestenberg acknowledged the concerns of the Boutins and Lead Free Williston, and pledged that the state is committed to doing what is necessary to remediate lead contamination in the waters and surrounding soils of Sucker Brook.

“I agree with the Boutins 100 percent that the stream has been impacted, and we’re going to work with the club to determine how badly and what we can do about it,” Wuestenberg said.

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