New Rules For Hartland Gun Range Won't Solve Noise Problem, Neighbors Fear

May 1, 2015

Plainfield, New Hampshire residents are still furious about noise coming from a shooting range in Hartland, Vermont. So Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Commissioner Louis Porter wants to limit the range’s hours, require a hunting or fishing license and add supervision. The department also plans to install about $20,000 of security and soundproofing upgrades.

But the new rules proposal is drawing flak from shooters who say it’s too restrictive and neighbors who say it won’t reduce sound levels.

Hammond Cove, in Hartland, is the only public shooting range in Vermont. In 2012, with funding from the federal government and the National Rifle Association, the Department of Fish and Wildlife renovated the facility. Now Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter concedes the range is getting more use and therefore creating a bigger noise problem than state officials had expected. At a hearing about proposed new rules in Hartland, Porter faced a vocal audience from both sides of the river.

“The measures that are being discussed, the reduced hours, I’m afraid we are scratching the surface here. It’s driving me out of my home,” Dan Dewey complained.

He lives across the river in Plainfield, only about 300 feet from the range. Dewey says it’s an amphitheater that funnels sound across the river, and that’s made his house and yard unlivable. Before the 2012 renovations brought many more gun enthusiasts to Hammond Cove, he said, it was not nearly such an intrusion on daily life.

"The measures that are being discussed, the reduced hours, I'm afraid we are scratching the surface here. It's driving me out of my home." - Dan Dewey, Plainfield resident

A chorus of equally angry neighbors told Porter their property values have dropped by as much as 40 percent because of the increasing noise. 

Rob Taylor, a Plainfield Selectman, joined the conversation. “It pulls down one house, it’s no big deal, but it starts pulling down multiple houses in a section of our town, it’s going to have an impact on the rest of the taxpayers having to bring up the rest of the load, which is already a big problem in the tow. I don’t have to tell you guys about that,” Taylor said.

He proposed setting aside one weekend day for shooters, and another one — perhaps Sunday — as a day of quiet for neighbors.

The state’s proposal is to close Hammond Cove from Dec. 15 to March 31 and on all state and federal holidays. From April 1 to Aug. 31, it would be open noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the week. From Sept. 1 to Dec. 15, it would be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays and 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. the rest of the week.

Ironically, Commissioner Porter said, license plates suggest 60 percent of the range users come from New Hampshire. But it was mostly local Hartland gun owners who balked at limiting hours and requiring licenses.

"I applaud you for the range, but to appease a few complaints and making the rest of us suffer, I just don't agree." - Tim Thibodeau, resident who lives close to the gun range

Tim Thibodeau lives close to the range, which he thinks was well designed. “I applaud you for the range, but to appease a few complaints and making the rest of us suffer, I just don’t agree,” Thibodeau told Porter.

“I appreciate that,” Porter replied.  “I understand exactly what you are saying, but we have a responsibility to answer the objections from folks, the problems that folks are seeing on both sides of the river.”

Appeasing both sides won’t be easy. Even Porter admits that the geography of the site makes substantial noise mitigation nearly impossible. But he is hoping that closing the range from December to March, and cutting back the hours during the other months, will strike a compromise. Porter says requiring licenses will allow law enforcers to penalize users for breaking the proposed rules, which also prevent shooters from firing more than six rounds per magazine.

But for Plainfield resident Mitch White, none of that goes far enough.

“And I own guns, you know, [I'm a] a fourth generation vet, but this is absurd to eat multiple gun fire from multiple shooters every hour of every day,” White said.

Opponents were skeptical that the state can enforce rules at a range where scofflaws already fire weapons  when it’s supposed to be closed.  Plainfield neighbors have commissioned and submitted their own sound study which they say is more accurate than the one driving the proposed changes. 

"Maybe the state is just using the wrong consultants to measure this stuff and get a good design," said one man who uses the range.

"I know you have other ranges you want to develop around the state. Don't turn your back on this one until the job is done. Please. Because it's not solved yet." - Mike Jaeger, Plainfield resident

Mike Jaeger, of Plainfield, urged Porter to use Hammond Cove as a model of mitigation for other sites under review or reconstruction.

“I know you have other ranges you want to develop around the state. Don’t turn your back on this one until the job is done. Please. Because it’s not solved yet,” Jaeger said.

Porter promised to do what he could to make Hammond Cove less noisy. But fully enclosing it, he said, would be prohibitively expensive and shutting it down would just send shooters into more dangerous, unsupervised gravel pits around the state.

The final rules will be posted soon on the Fish and Wildlife website.