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Newport Clears Way for Gun Range

Newport — Tuesday night’s decision by the Conservation Commission to lift most of the conservation easement at a closed ash landfill signals the first step toward possible construction of a gun range at the site.

With little discussion and no objections by members or the eight people in attendance, the commission unanimously agreed to reduce the area under easement to about 16 acres of surrounding land and buried ash. The easement was lifted on about 64 acres.

Town Manager Paul Brown showed a map of the property, indicating the area where the easement would remain in effect and the area where gun manufacturer Sturm, Ruger is weighing a shooting range.

Brown pointed to a spot on the map that is outside the original easement area and closer to Route 11-103, which he said could be used for trap shooting while pistol and firing ranges would be better located down behind the roughly 100-foot-high hill where the ash is buried.

The ash came from the waste-to-energy incinerator in Claremont and was buried in lined “cells” for nearly 20 years. The incinerator burned its last load on Sunday, ending 26 years of operation.

Brown stressed that conversations with Ruger officials have been limited and no formal plans developed. He hopes the required approvals, including from the Planning Board, could be obtained before the end of the year.

In June, Ruger withdrew plans that had been approved to build a range off Route 11-103 east of Kelleyville. Brown said he opened talks with the company soon after about developing the landfill site and said the company expressed an interest.

“I think it is important to keep Ruger in town and give them the tools they need to operate,” Brown said, referring to the range as a site for product testing.

The town acquired the landfill, which totals about 96 acres on the Claremont line, in 2006 from the now defunct New Hampshire Vermont Solid Waste Project and a year later the entire property was placed under easement to prevent it from being used for future ash or solid waste disposal. There were two other “cells” that had received permits but they have been revoked, Brown said. Part of those cells will remain in the easement.

The Economic Corporation of Newport owns the property and would lease it to Ruger, which would pay taxes on the developed portion. If plans with Ruger do not materialize, Brown said the corporation would be interested in talking to others about use of the site.

The conservation easement prohibits commercial and industrial activities and requires it to remain open land. Brown earlier said that “much of the easement area is not necessary for the required work at the landfill.”

With the backing of the Selectboard, Brown, president of the corporation, proposed taking most of the land out of the easement to improve the opportunity for development and generating tax revenue for the town.

After last night’s meeting, Nathan LaVanway came away with a positive respone. He lives on Cutts Road in Newport, not far from the previous location where Ruger had won approval to build a shooting range. Residents went to court to block it. The gunmaker withdrew its application while the case was on appeal.

LaVanway said the landfill location makes more sense.

“It seems it would impact the least amount of people,” he said at the close of the meeting.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.