Gun club, neighbors aim for further dialogue12/24/08

Dec. 24, 2008

By Mariana Lamaison Sears

Observer correspondent

Neighbors and members of the North Country Sportsman’s Club met last week at an informational session to express their views on the potential effects that club activities could have on the environment and public health. At the Thursday night meeting, hosted by the town, representatives of the Agency of Natural Resources, or ANR, and town officials were on hand to answer questions.

Town and club officials and neighbors agreed that lead, which is contained in bullets and concerns neighbors more than noise, is toxic and can contaminate the soil and water if left unattended in the ground. No one had a scientifically calculated number of how much lead sits in the club’s property, located off Old Creamery Road, but everyone agreed that several tons must have accumulated by now. The club has operated since 1962 at the site and has never recovered any lead, said Tom Blair, the club’s president.

Regardless of the amount, the club does not perceive the lead deposited to be a problem, Blair said.

“We don’t believe we have a lead contamination issue, all tests are below detection limits,” he said at the meeting.

Two samples from different water sources taken at the club were tested in October and resulted in undetectable levels of lead. Water tested in August at the home of Leo and Mona Boutin, neighbors of the club, showed lead levels below the state’s action limit for the first sample and below detection limit for the second sample, which came from the aquifer. And a nearby public water supply that is regularly tested never had alarming levels of lead detected, either. But neighbors do not want to wait until a test reveals higher levels of lead to take action.

“What happens if lead is found in our water next week?” questioned Rob Nesbit, a physician and neighbor of the club. “I treated people with lead poisoning. It is a tough thing to deal with.”

In a follow-up conversation with the Observer, Nesbit, who lives on Bradley Lane, said he would like to have water in the club and nearby wells closely monitored, by the town if necessary.

“Something systemic, not random; and transparent,” he said. “I have seen the effects of lead in multiple cases and by the time you find out, it is too late. I would like some responsible agency to study the problem.”

Best practices

Residents attending the meeting — more than 30 — learned that ANR does not consider lead in gun clubs a hazardous substance. George Desch, manager of hazardous waste sites with the Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, explained that his office, following federal law, does not regulate shooting ranges or clubs because the lead there “is being used for its intended purpose.”

“We care for places abandoned where lead has been left behind,” he said.

The DEC encourages clubs to apply best management practices according to federal guidelines, such as lead recovery and recycling, he said.

Blair told neighbors that shot recovery is difficult, due to the terrain characteristics, but the club developed a lead management plan to implement best practices. The three-page document, approved by club directors this month, calls for applying lime to the soil to stabilize its acidity, monitoring technology to reclaim shot and implement reclamation when feasible, and monitoring lead in water and building containment structures if necessary.

Neighbors want to see further commitment from the club to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council guidelines. Their manuals suggest ideas including planting vegetation and installing a ditch to prevent rainwater runoff and thus the migration of lead, Nesbit said.

“There must be some way to contain or remove the lead,” said Adam Deyo, who lives on Old Creamery Road. “Best practices should be followed.”

Said another neighbor, David Yandell, “I feel that they need to hold themselves to higher standards in terms of land stewardship.”

Noisy Saturdays

Noise was discussed in the second part of the meeting. Neighbors were upset after noticing over the summer an increase in special events hosted by the club on Saturdays, outside regular hours of operation. After confirming this, Town Manager Rick McGuire said  the club agreed to cut special events back to an annual average of once a month. A neighbor suggested the town and the club come up with an official definition of a special event so it becomes clear how frequent those could be.

What is going to happen next remains unclear. Key to figuring out future steps, some say, is to continue the dialogue that began at the meeting.

“I do not have a clear sense of what we should be doing,” McGuire said the day after the meeting. “We need to continue the conversations.”

“We need to continue the dialogue; communication wasn’t good until this point,” Yandell said.