A state-owned shooting range in Hartland is itself under fire. Most of the complaints about noise are coming from Plainfield, New Hampshire. The sound travels just over 300 yards from Hartland across the Connecticut River, and residents in this small, rural town say they've heard enough.
Late on a recent weekday afternoon, a few of them gather in the woodsy Plainfield backyard of Dan Dewey. Shots ring out from across the river. Dewey says weekends are worse, and for proof he cites a video taken by another neighbor, in which the gunshots are much louder and closer together.
Dewey is furious about losing the peace and quiet of his woodland home.
“We find ourselves here battling a noise, a clear public noise nuisance, that was built with money that came from the federal government, that is operated, we don’t think, by anybody because it happens at all hours outside of what hours it’s supposed to … and my property is now worth $100,000 less than it was before the range was opened ... It’s not right. It’s not right,” he says.
Beside him, nodding their heads, are neighbors who say their grandchildren are now afraid to play in their yard, and Dewey says there are many more opponents. Plainfield Selectman Ron Eberhardt says he understands that the Hartland's Hammond Cove Range has been there for decades, but after it was upgraded in 2012, weapons have been getting louder, and more people are firing them every day.
“It’s a noise issue, it’s a sound issue, I mean if you lived across the river from people who occasionally played music when there was a family party or something that’s one thing. If they open a recording studio or a bar so that there’s loud music playing large parts of the day, day in and day out, it’s a different issue,” Eberhardt says.
The state of Vermont conducted a sound study, then built a $40,000 baffle to mitigate the noise. That brings the overall cost of the range to about a quarter million dollars. Much of the money came from the federal government and the National Rifle Association. Vermont's Fish and Wildlife Department is about to release a follow-up noise study, to see if the baffle is making a difference. But Dan Dewey says the range can never be quieted because creates an east-bound sound tunnel.
“The obligation of Vermont is to restore our peace. They took it away from us, and that’s what they’ve got to give back,” he says.
Joining the group in Dewey's yard is Hartland state representative John Bartholomew. He's crossed the river to look for compromise, perhaps limiting hours or even enclosing the range.
“But enclosing it would take a lot of money. I can’t begin to guess how much but as I said it’s a shared resource and has an impact both positive and negative impact on both states,” says Bartholomew.
Vermont Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter says he takes Plainfield’s complaints seriously.
“We do understand the problem that this has caused for our New Hampshire neighbors and are looking at different ways to potentially mitigate that.”
Porter says those ways will become clearer after he sees the results of the follow-up sound study expected next week.
But he defends the state’s ownership of this and other ranges, because he says people will shoot, no matter what — and it’s best to give them a safe place to do it, for free.