AUGUSTA — The $2.5 million Summerhaven Gun Range, billed as a state-of-the-art outdoor shooting facility, may open this month following a nearly year-long delay beyond original estimates.

The Kennebec Journal reported in February 2018 that application materials filed by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife expected construction to start in the spring of 2018 and be complete by the end of the year. Local gun owners said they don’t anticipate using the range, but a gun shop owner said he was curious to check out the range so he could recommend it to customers.

Department spokesperson Mark Latti said construction started in mid-June 2018 and that preliminary estimate was “not realistic” because “the range was in the design phase and the project had not yet gone out to bid.” Latti said the range is set to open in mid-September and officials are just waiting for “the planted grass to take.” He did not know the exact date the range would be open.

The Summerhaven Gun Range, built by the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Department Augusta, is seen Aug. 21. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

The range, built by Augusta’s Blane Casey Building Contractor, replaced a gravel pit that was home to an informal shooting area. The range briefly closed in 2016 because of concerns about noise from shooting there and items, including appliances, being shot up and left behind, before reopening under a plan that limited the range’s use to when a volunteer range safety coordinator is on hand to oversee the property.

Latti said the department committed to cleaning up the area, which was contaminated with lead from ammunition left behind, and creating a more formal shooting range.

Officials from Blane Casey did not return the Kennebec Journals request for comment.

 

The range was updated once again, Latti said, because it needed improvements after it became more heavily-used. Latti said the new range is “safer, quieter, cleaner, and handicapped accessible.”

On July 28, the department’s website posted a message “to stop rumors” and continued: “Summerhaven remains closed at this time. Construction is nearly finished and the state continues to work with the Contractor to accept the Range from the Contractor but the progress has been extremely slow. We know the public is as ready to use the Range as we are to use the Range; but until the Range is accepted by the State and under our control, it is not open. We do not have a date nor will we speculate a date that this time.”

In a Sept. 6 email, Latti declined to tell the Kennebec Journal what the rumors were.

“It would be irresponsible of me to substantiate those rumors by repeating them,” he said.

The range will be open to the public at no cost, but can only be used when “certified range safety officers” are supervising the range, according to Latti. The range is also available for state and local police agencies to use for training.

Officials from Gun Owners of Maine and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine did not return multiple requests for comment.

Katherine Pollock fires a rifle under the instruction of Rob Sibley on Jan. 6, 2016, at a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife range in Augusta. The Summerhaven Gun Range is expected to reopen this year. Kennebec Journal file photo by Andy Molloy

Latti said the $2.5 million range was 80% funded through wildlife and sportfish restoration funds, which Latti said came from “a federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition that is redistributed to states,” and 20% funded through the sale of sporting licenses.

Robert Sezak, vice president of the Capitol City Rifle and Pistol Club, said he had no need to use the range because the club operates its own indoor and outdoor facility. He said the range is only open to members, who must join the National Rifle Association and pay $80 in annual dues to the club.

“I’ve not really concerned myself with that range,” he said. “I have my own place to shoot and I don’t need to depend on anybody to be there.”

Sezak called the range “overbuilt” and said it may be difficult for some gun owners to find the time to go shoot when someone from the department is there. There is no schedule available for the range on the department’s website.

“It’s quite frankly a wonderful range, but I’m not sure how it will fit (in to local gun owners’ plans),” he said.

Julian Beale, owner of Kennebec Guns in Augusta and also a member of the Capitol City club, said he didn’t anticipate using the range because he has been using the club’s range for more than 45 years.

Beale said he was interested in learning more about the Summerhaven range so he can refer customers to it in the future.

In July, the department presented its teamwork award to the team involved with the design and construction of the Summerhaven range: Bob Cordes, Diano Circo, Craig Gerry, Rick Parker and Mike Sawyer. A release said the award was given “for their extensive roles in transforming a gravel pit that had become a dumping ground into a world-class, state of the art shooting facility unlike any other in the east.”

Summerhaven is the second gun range owned by the department, the other being in Fryeburg.

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