Instructor Craig Gerry, center, leads a tour Saturday at the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife gun range in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — As city officials grapple with balancing the tradition of shooting sports with concerns about noise and safety, Augusta city officials have appointed an ad hoc committee to find that balance.

On Saturday, committee members toured three shooting facilities in Augusta to gain some understanding of how they operate and the services they offer before moving on to the next step of proposing regulations for city elected officials to consider.

“It shouldn’t be lost that these ranges provide some really good public service,” Kevin Judkins said. Judkins is an Augusta city councilor and the chairman of the ad hoc committee charged with reviewing the Planning Board’s recommendations and making final recommendations to the City Council for action.

The committee is made up of city officials, representatives from the shooting ranges and residents.

“We all have a different understanding of the depth of the issues and our hope is that this will help some of us to maybe get on the same page,”  Judkins said. “So when we start to talk about berms and buffers and things like this, it’s maybe better to have a visual of it.”

Members visited the Sportman’s Alliance of Maine’s facility off Route 3; the Summerhaven shooting range, operated by the state’s Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Department; and the Capitol City Rifle & Pistol Club located just off Civic Center Drive.

David Trahan, executive director of Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, answers a question from Alison Nichols during a tour Saturday at the group’s gun range off Route 3 in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

At the end of 2019, the Capitol City Rifle & Pistol Club withdrew an application it had submitted to city officials to add a plinking range to its facility after city officials and residents expressed concerns over safety and noise.

Jim Bouford, committee member and chief instructor for the Capitol City Rifle & Pistol Club, said in the decades since the club was formed in 1964, the area around the club in northwest Augusta has grown and developed, putting people closer to the club’s activities.

“Our property borders the city’s town line,” Bouford said, “so we can’t get any farther out of town without being out of town. People have moved onto Middle Road and Bog Road, which was farmland or forgotten land and they are finding they can buy that less expensively.”

Bouford said the club is hoping city officials can come up with regulations that ensure that any new ranges can meet reasonable safety, noise and environmental regulations while recognizing that Capitol City Rifle & Pistol Club has been around for a while and is limited in some of the things it can do.

“We hope it does not become overbearing for new or existing (clubs) and provide some benefit to the citizens of the city,” he said.

The Inland Fisheries & Wildlife gun range in Augusta offers 100-yard distances to practice. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The ranges each offer something different. The SAM facility incorporates walking paths and outdoor experiences across its property along with training opportunities for biathlon competitors. The Summerhaven range offers facilities where both law enforcement and bow hunters can hone their skills. Among other activities, Capitol City Rifle & Pistol has facilities that can host shooting competitions.

The city’s ad hoc committee was name in September, after the Planning Board forwarded a proposed ordinance to the City Council for review and consideration. The proposal was the result of more than two years of work.

Judkins said the next step is for the committee to meet again in the next few weeks to continue its discussion.

David Trahan, executive director of Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, left, and Augusta Mayor David Rollins talk about shooting at targets Saturday during a tour at the group’s gun range off Route 3 in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“We want to sit down and hopefully see if we are closer to where we want to be,” he said, “and come to some kind of middle ground.”

Bouford said he hopes the process doesn’t result in something that damages the club’s operations.

“We’re hoping we don’t die a death by a thousand cuts,” he said. “You give a little here and cut a little there and all of a sudden you can’t do anything. There’s only so much you can give up before you don’t have anything.”

“If having firearms is going to exist, we need proper facilities to train people on how to use them appropriately and safely,” Judkins said.

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