Residents with concerns about noise coming from a state-owned shooting range in the Summerhaven area in Augusta expressed enthusiasm for a plan to seek federal grant funding to install concrete walls and baffles on the range that would prevent stray bullets from leaving the site and greatly reduce, but not eliminate, noise.

Several residents at a Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife public hearing to discuss plans, and new rules, for the range said they’ve been irritated for years by noise from shooting at the site. They said it has gotten better since the state began supervising the range more closely in recent years.

And they reacted positively to a proposal to add several 10-inch thick, 20-foot-high concrete walls around and between the planned four shooting areas at the range, and overlapping concrete and wood baffles suspended from joists above the range, which officials said would prevent bullets from leaving the property. They were especially happy to hear those changes also could reduce noise from the site.

“Before the state took over, it was like the Wild West,” said Maurice Dubord, a Burns Road resident who lives about half-mile, through the woods, from the range. “They’d start sometimes at 4 in the morning and shoot all day long. This is going to be a lot better. This looks good to me.”

Rick LaRosa, an architect from Atlanta, Georgia, who specializes in shooting range design, said the proposed design would reduce noise from shooting at the site from about 180 decibels to 60 decibels, which he said is about the same as normal speaking volume. But he warned the noise won’t go away, even with the proposed improvements.

“You’ll have solid concrete walls and a baffle system overhead. It’s very controlled. It will reduce noise,” LaRosa said. “But I’ll tell you right now, the noise won’t go away. What we can do is make it so much less than what you’re getting now. You’ll still hear that “pop, pop, pop.” But if you put a decibel meter on it, it’s no louder than speech.”

Other residents of the area who attended Thursday’s public hearing also expressed concern about noise and support for the proposed changes.

Nate Webb, special projects coordinator for Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, said the state needs to go through several steps to obtain the federal grant funding to pay for the proposed improvements, which he said would cost “in the hundreds of thousands.”

If that federal funding, the source of which is excise taxes on firearms and related items, is obtained, he said, construction could start at the range next summer.

The state turned the sandy area, already popular with shooters for decades as an unofficial place to shoot, into an official shooting range in 2012, to give the public a free, safe place to checks gun sights and do target practice. More than 8 tons of debris was removed from the site which, like much of the rest of the pit area, was once used by some as an illegal dumping ground for unwanted items including refrigerators and televisions.

However, the range closed in March because of concern about noise coming from it and irresponsible use by a few shooters bringing in items such as propane tanks and bottles and cans, shooting them up, and leaving without cleaning up the debris they created.

In August the range reopened with a new plan. Hours are limited, generally starting in mid-morning and wrapping up by early evening. And the range now may be used by the public only when a range safety officer is on the site. Range safety officers make sure people follow the rules and assist shooters if their weapons jam. They have undergone background checks, have experience with firearms and underwent a daylong course.

Updated range schedules and other information about shooting ranges in Maine will be posted online on the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife shooting range website.

The entrance to the range is gated, a camera monitors the site constantly and local law enforcement patrols pass the site regularly, officials said, to prevent unauthorized use. Officials said there has been no unauthorized use since it was closed to the public in March.

Dubord, who is retired but said he had been in the military all his adult life, said things improved when the state restricted the hours and limited use to when one of several volunteer range safety supervisors could be on site to oversee the range.

The proposed improvements include four separate shooting lanes at 100, 75, 50 and 25 yards from the target area, each with four lanes within them, separated by concrete barriers with overhead baffles, and a berm double the height of the current berm, with ballistic sand to collect bullets better.

The improvements would include a major cleanup of the site, seeking to remove lead from the property left behind by decades of shooting.

Officials at Thursday’s public hearing, moderated by Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, also sought input into proposed new rules for that range and other state-owned ranges.

Multiple attendees asked that the use of automatic weapons be banned at state ranges, or for a limit on the number of bullets they can shoot at a time.

“There are a lot of automatic weapons out there, some of these guys with 30-round clips,” said Brian Dostie, of Manchester. “Some shooters are inexperienced, and they start firing, the protections you have in place may be damaged.”

Dostie also suggested that anyone caught trespassing on the range after hours be punished more severely than they would be under normal trespassing laws.

Richard Platt, a former New Jersey resident who retired to Maine two years ago, said he appreciated the opportunity he has found in Maine to have shooting facilities to use, which he said were lacking in New Jersey. He said he supports whatever officials propose to do at the range.

Webb said historically there were multiple places people could shoot in the Summerhaven pits, including privately owned gravel pits. Over the years the owners of those other pits, several of which are being used to extract soil, closed them to shooting, concentrating shooters at the state-owned site.

In July the state closed the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife’s other public shooting range, the Fryeburg Shooting Area, at the Maj. Gregory Sanborn Wildlife Management Area, because of problems similar to those that prompted the March closure of the Summerhaven pit. The department, as it has done at the Summerhaven range, plans to reopen it after developing a schedule of limited hours. A similar public hearing about that range drew some 90 people Wednesday night, Webb said.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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