Meeting to cover complaints about gun club12/18/08

Neighbors petition for restrictions

Dec. 18, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Gunfire rings out each Sunday morning at Mona Boutin’s nearest neighbor, North Country Sportsmen’s Club.

The Williston resident says the shotgun blasts drown out conversation and disrupt an otherwise quiet day. Just as worrisome is the lead from thousands of spent shells that she feels is contaminating her groundwater.

Boutin and her neighbors want to limit activities at the club. They have circulated a petition asking the town to forbid shooting outside of permitted hours on Wednesdays and Sundays.

“The noise from the shooting at North Country Sportsmen’s Club is upsetting to everyone who lives in the vicinity,” states the petition signed by 46 people. “We, as taxpayers, deserve to have a quiet and restful break from our working lives.”

The situation has prompted Town Manager Rick McGuire to schedule a forum to discuss the club’s environmental impact and Williston’s authority to regulate its activities. The forum will be held tonight, Thursday, Dec. 18, at 7 p.m. at Williston Town Hall.

North Country Sportsmen’s Club has operated since 1962 in a relatively rural part of Williston off Old Creamery Road. The club holds shooting events on Sundays throughout the year and on Wednesdays during warmer months. It also hosts various groups and events, said Tom Blair, the club’s president.

Boutin said she wants the town to forbid special events on Saturdays, which she says have been taking place with increasing frequency. She also thinks the club should clean up old shells.

McGuire said state statute limits local regulation of gun clubs. The law requires clubs to comply with permit conditions, if any, but otherwise exempts them from municipal rules, including noise ordinances like Williston’s.

Boutin said attempts to negotiate with the club have accomplished little.

“We’ve been trying to work with them for years,” she said. “It hasn’t gone well.”

Blair said residents should have known when they moved there that the gun club would sometimes be noisy. He accused Boutin’s husband, Leo, of “spreading all sorts of misinformation about the club in an attempt to shut us down.”

Boutin acknowledges that the club was there when she and her husband moved to their home in 1986. But she also noted that Leo’s family had farmed the land for three generations and so predated the club.

More than noise

Lead contamination from the spent shotgun shells that litter the club’s property also worry Boutin. She said she drinks only bottled water.

Her young grandson recently visited her home for the first time and Boutin was alarmed when he was given tap water.

“I said, “No, not out of the faucet,’” Boutin said. “I don’t feel I should have to live this way.”

Recent tests showed the presence of lead in her well water, albeit below the level considered hazardous by the state, Boutin said. The petition expresses concern that 500 tons of lead shot from spent shells now sit in a wellhead protection area.

The club has tested standing water on the gun club’s 54-acre property, Blair said. Analysis by an independent laboratory showed no detectable lead.

He said lead is ordinarily inert and so poses no hazard to the environment as long as it is kept away from acidic substances, which can cause it to leach into the ground. He said the club plans to apply lime to ensure the soil maintains a neutral pH.

Boutin said the club should excavate the old shells and truck in fresh fill. Blair said digging up old shells is impractical given the hilly terrain.

Over the past year, the club has increasingly held special events on Saturdays, Boutin said. The town is supposed to be notified when the club operates outside of permitted operating hours. But when she called Williston Police, Boutin said officers didn’t know anything about the special events.

Blair said the gun club tries to be a good neighbor. Over the years, it has changed the orientation of ranges to prevent shots from straying off its property. Members now use shells that create less noise when fired.

When no shooting is scheduled, Blair said residents are allowed to hike the property and walk their dogs. It also caters to sport shooting newcomers, he said, particularly women and teens.

“They also get to know that the people out there shooting at targets aren’t a bunch of wild-eyed rednecks,” Blair said.

Tonight’s forum will include a diverse panel, including Ken Belliveau, Williston’s planning director; Paul Gillies, the town’s lawyer; and George Desch, hazardous waste site manager for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.