August 22, 2014

Public to weigh in on firearms

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Proposal considers softening restrictions

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Some town-owned lands could be open to hunting if changes proposed to the town firearms ordinance move forward. A public hearing is scheduled for Monday at 7:35 p.m.

Town Environmental Planner Carrie Deegan said which town lands would be open is “part of the discussion.” Deegan is the town staff person that works with the Williston Conservation Commission, which presented proposed changes to the Selectboard last month.

“I think (the commission is) planning to recommend to the Selectboard that Brownell Mountain, the Hill property and the Burnett property open up to firearms discharge and see how that goes,” Deegan said.

All three of those pieces of land lie south of Interstate 89 and do not get a lot of recreational use, according to Deegan. Brownell Mountain is 109 acres, located on the southern border of town to St. George; the Hill property is 20 acres off of Route 2A; and the Burnett property is 51 acres.

Under the current ordinance, adopted in 1997, firearms may not be discharged in Williston north of Interstate 89, except for a small area in the northeastern corner of town; that portion of the ordinance is not up for discussion.

What is up for discussion is the portion of Williston that lies south of the Interstate. Under the current ordinance, firearms may not be discharged south of the Interstate within 500 feet of any building, road or trail, or in “any public park or recreation area.”

With no definition of “public park,” Deegan said, the commission has used the strictest definition and has not allowed firearms discharge on any town-owned land. Two hunters approached the commission, Deegan said, to consider clarifying the ordinance to be less strict.

The proposal gives the Selectboard authority to close any town-owned land to firearms discharge. Without a specified closing, the proposal says, firearms discharge would be restricted to areas at least 10 feet away from public roads and 100 feet away from marked public trails. Firearms also could not be discharged across roads or trails under the proposal. (The restriction to be at least 500 feet away from any building remains the same.)

“I think the conservation’s real concern is that some of the language in the ordinance is cleared up,” Deegan said. “Whether or not it works out that there will be discharge of firearms on some parcels, I think they’re happy to leave that up to the townspeople.”

Deegan pointed out that some nearby recreational areas, such as the Lake Iroquois Recreation District, are currently open to hunting. Lake Iroquois Recreation District is not town-owned land.

Deegan said recreation areas like Mud Pond Conservation Area could never be open to hunting because the land was sold to the town with conservation restrictions that prohibit it. Areas like Five Tree Hill could be open to hunting if the Selectboard allowed, though Deegan said there were “definitely concerns” by the Conservation Commission about that property since there’s such heavy recreational use.

Selectman Andy Mikell said last month he was unlikely to support the changes, citing citizen safety above recreational pursuits.

Monday’s 7:35 p.m. public hearing will be held at Town Hall.

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