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Gun Range Up for Debate In Newport

Newport — Supporters and opponents of a proposed gun range are expected to turn out tonight to argue their positions on a proposed gun range that would be constructed on a 64-acre parcel on Route 11-103.

The Planning Board’s final site plan review of the project begins at 6 p.m. in the Newport High School gymnasium.

Represented by West Lebanon attorney Rebecca Wagner, members of the Newport Safety Coalition, who oppose the range, claim the site is unsuitable for a gun range because of its proximity to homes and the presence of wetlands. Since it was first proposed for a special exception before the Zoning Board of Adjustment about a year ago, opponents have argued that noise, safety and environmental contamination of the land are reasons enough for the project to be rejected.

But in their filings, the applicants, Mountain View Gun Club and Sturm, Ruger & Co., say they have gone to great lengths to meet all zoning requirements and explain how the design of the range will minimize noise and not cause contamination of the water or soils.

Mountain View and Sturm, Ruger, a gun maker in Newport that will use the range for product testing, filed several documents with drawings of the plans and contours showing how far the noise is estimated to travel based on a sound study.

In one filing, the applicants show contours for noise from two .22-caliber rifles that show that sound levels of 40 decibels, that of a quiet conversation, reach nearby Whitcher Road. Another document states the maximum noise level for the range reaches 80 decibels on the property and extend from there to 60 to 70 decibels on surrounding property.

Also filed by the applicant is a 55-page environmental stewardship plan and a 20-page sound study. The environmental plan lays out recommendations to ensure that lead and other metals do not pose a contamination threat.

Wagner’s opposition memorandum argues that the site plan should be rejected because it fails to meet the town’s site plan review regulations.

“The application must be denied for failure to adequately protect the quality of groundwater, the public’s safety, or to adequately prevent undesirable elements of pollution such as noise or any other discharge into the enviroment,” Wagner writes.

Regarding noise, she argues that the site plan review is the final opportunity to challenge the noise levels because state law exempts “shooting ranges from civil liability or criminal prosecution in any matter relating to noise or noise pollution” so long as the range was in compliance when it was established.

Wagner said that because Newport has no noise ordinance, there would be no limit on the amount of noise the facility could produce and no recourse for property owners if the applicant’s sound study proves inaccurate.

To reduce noise, the applicants said construction will include eight-foot berms, overhead baffles and three-sided sheds where shooters would stand. Range safety officers would train shooters and violators of club rules would be expelled.

Wagner wants the Planning Board to get a “guarantee” that Sturm, Ruger will not manufacture larger weapons, otherwise it will cause “irreparable harm” to neighbors and abutters who will have no legal recourse against the noise. On the issue of contamination, Wagner said it is a poor site for a shooting range because of steep slopes, shallow bedrock, shallow groundwater, thin soils, wetlands on the site and proximity to drinking water wells. She concludes that the combination of noise and groundwater pollution along with danger to humans and wildlife show the application is “fatally flawed” and must be denied.

A special exception from the ZBA was required because a portion of the parcel is in a residential zone with the rest in an industrial zone. The Planning Board held a preliminary site plan review in November.

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