AUGUSTA — The Augusta Planning Board approved one proposal related to a shooting range, but a second unrelated shooting range proposal was withdrawn by the applicant after residents and officials expressed concerns about noise and safety at the site off Civic Center Drive.

A frustrated Capitol City Rifle & Pistol Club Chief Instructor Jim Bouford late Tuesday night withdrew the private shooting club’s proposal to expand its “plinking” range, an area where noncompetitive, recreational shooters target shoot.

Earlier that evening the planning board unanimously approved a proposal to allow .22-caliber firearms to be used at an existing range, despite the objections of a neighbor to that property. Previously, only airguns and archery were allowed at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s Youth & Family Educational Area at 2273 North Belfast Ave.

The Capitol City Rifle & Pistol Club’s proposal never got to the board for a vote. Bouford announced he was withdrawing the proposal shortly before 11 p.m. He described the proposal as an effort to address the concerns of neighbors about noise coming from the range.

“I’m not sure we’re willing to put the whole facility in jeopardy,” Bouford said. “What we had tried to do is find a way to help the concerns with neighbors. It was not seen as such. The requirements are offensive. Let me just make it easy for everybody right now, we are pulling our application.”

A central issue for the Capitol City proposal to add 2,700 square feet to its 7,125-square-foot plinking range was noise and whether the proposal would be subject to the city’s noise ordinance standards, which cap decibel levels at 60 along property lines. The club intended to expand two of its shooting lanes from 50 to 100 yards.

State law exempts shooting ranges established before Sept. 1, 2016, from having to comply with local noise ordinances, unless substantial changes in use are proposed.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, on Wednesday at the site on which his group plans to build a gun range in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Deputy City Planner Betsy Poulin said the proposed expansion would be a substantial change, so the expanded plinking range would have to comply with the city’s noise ordinance standards. The rest of the club’s other shooting ranges, that together cover more than 200,000 square feet of the club’s 41-acre property on the city boundary with Sidney, would be exempt from the ordinance.

Bouford argued the change was not a substantial change in use.

Measurements club officials took using a cellphone app show decibel levels of between 58 and 78 decibels, including noise levels from the plinking range that exceeded the city’s 60 decibel limit. The club provided the data to the city.

Civic Center Drive resident Dennis Lettre, a neighbor to the club property for 40 years, and planning board member Steve Dumont, who recused himself but also spoke from the audience, said noise from what they call near-constant shooting at the club disrupts their lives. They said the shooting is so forceful sometimes they can feel the gun blasts from their properties, is dangerous, may have harmed their hearing and can be heard even when their doors and windows are all closed.

Dumont, a Vietnam War veteran, said all the shooting at the range he hears from his home, about a mile away on Green Acre Road. He said the shooting also has brought back his post-traumatic stress disorder, so he now has a hard time sleeping at night. Dumont said his ears ring all the time, noise levels at his home average between 74 and 94 decibels and he feels like he can’t escape the frequent shooting.

“Our house is not a home anymore, because we can’t enjoy it. This is north Aleppo, not north Augusta,” Dumont said. “They’ve turned a neighborhood into a war zone. Why have our rights been taken away from us? How come they can enforce the noise ordinance for music, but not gunfire? You come home, step out of the car and all you hear is gunfire.”

Bouford said the club’s proposal to expand the plinking range was actually meant to help lessen the impact of noise at the club on its neighbors.

He said after trees were cut on Lettre’s property, which is closer to the club’s larger shooting range than the plinking range, the lack of those trees to help buffer sound from the club allowed more noise to leave the club. He said they had hoped to move casual shooters off the main range, where shooting competitions take place, and onto the plinking range, thereby reducing the amount of shooting on the larger range which is closer to some neighbors.

“I think this only helps the neighbors of the club,” said resident Chris Watts, who is listed on the club’s website as its secretary.

Lettre and some planning board members expressed concerns about safety at the club, in part because it is not separated from other properties by a fence, and in part because they said they don’t know if berms on the ranges are adequate to prevent stray bullets from leaving the property.

Board member A. Delaine Nye said she was concerned berms at the property could be inadequate to both help keep the noise level down and keep bullets from leaving the property, but said the bottom line was she didn’t feel qualified to determine whether the berms are adequate. She suggested seeking help from an expert who could provide the city with advice.

Bouford said the club has never had an accident on its property in its 50 years of existence. He said law enforcement organizations rent the range for training purposes and none of them have ever expressed concerns about a lack of safety there.

Board member Peter Pare said he’s not sure how he would have voted on the now-withdrawn proposal. He said he found it bothersome club officials did not seem to acknowledge that noise from the club had a negative impact on some of its neighbors or express a desire to address the issue.

Kristin Collins, an attorney for the city, addressed an allegation by Bouford that it was illegal for Dumont to comment on the proposal by saying members of the planning board are still citizens of Augusta and as long as they properly recuse themselves from the board they are allowed to comment on projects as citizens.

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine proposal to add .22 caliber firearms to its shooting range at a recently developed Youth & Family Educational Area, which also features hiking trails and a fishing pond off Route 3, drew less controversy and was approved unanimously by the board.

But it did meet opposition from its closest neighbor, Ron McPherson.

McPherson said SAM did a good job developing the property but the city does not need another gun range, since he said there are already two within a 12-mile radius. He expressed concerns about noise, the potential for stray bullets to leave the property and for larger guns to be fired at the site in the future, and the impact a nearby shooting range will have on his property values.

“I think that’s going to scare some people off from buying property in that area. Myself, as a buyer, I wouldn’t buy a property if I knew there was going to be a gun range in there,” McPherson said. “I truly feel this is going to keep escalating. I like to barbecue on my property, to have fun and relax. I don’t want to have to worry about anyone getting hurt on my property.”

David Trahan, executive director of SAM, said the shooting range is private and won’t be open to the public and would only be used occasionally, as little as an hour at a time once a month, such as by Boy Scouts undergoing training by 4-H certified firearms instructors. He said visitors using the range would only use .22 caliber firearms and the organization has no intention of adding the use of higher caliber firearms there. And he said the berms at the site are properly designed, and high, and the organization tried to locate the range on a part of its property away from neighbors.

“The only time we’re going to use this range is when a group comes in, say the Boys Scouts, and want to shoot to get their shooting badge,” Trahan said. “It’s for private use only, educational use only. People can’t just show up with their guns and start using it. We don’t plan on shooting anything beyond a .22. As far as expanding to other calibers, we have no intention of doing that. People can do that elsewhere.”

The staff review for that proposal indicates sound readings taken at its property line showed no increase in decibels when a .22-caliber firearm was discharged at the range, meaning it complies with city standards by not exceeding 60 decibels.

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