Range raises issues of Noise and safety

  • Published in Local News

"A rifle range and residential properties don't belong in the same neighborhood," Mark Mooney told the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Wednesday, when it held a second hearing on the proposal from Bob Gillespie of Belmont Firearms and Range to operate an outdoor range behind his facility on Route 106, just south of the crest of Prescott Hill. "There is no way in the world to maintain the peace of mind these folks enjoy right now." Mooney and his wife Ruth were among more two dozen ...

"A rifle range and residential properties don't belong in the same neighborhood," Mark Mooney told the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Wednesday, when it held a second hearing on the proposal from Bob Gillespie of Belmont Firearms and Range to operate an outdoor range behind his facility on Route 106, just south of the crest of Prescott Hill. "There is no way in the world to maintain the peace of mind these folks enjoy right now." Mooney and his wife Ruth were among more two dozen abutters and neighbors, including a large contingent from Mile Hill Road, who voiced their concerns about obtrusive noise, stray bullets, lax security and frightened wildlife. The board continued the hearing without reaching a decision, but accepted Gillespie's offer to conduct a field test at the range, when the sound of gunfire could be monitored and measured at various locations, including nearby residential neighborhoods. At the recommendation of Planning Director Candace Daigle, the board agreed to engage an acoustical engineer to assist with the design and analysis of the field test. Jon Rokeh of Rokeh Consulting opened the hearing by explaining the design and operation of the proposed range, which he emphasized were intend to maximize safety and minimize noise. The range would consist of a shooting platform at the rear of the building and a target area 100 yards away. The platform would be raised 25 feet above the ground and accessible only from inside the building through a secure door. The platform would have seven firing lanes or positions beneath a low, sloped roof and a raised front panel, which together would restrict the field of vision of shooters to the target area. The platform would be fully enclosed and sheathed with soundproofing material. Rokeh said that the lay of the land lends itself to shooting at a downward angle to the target area. "They will be shooting downhill into the ground," he said. "There will be no possibility of stray bullets off-site." The fixed targets would be placed on an embankment, topped by an earthen berm and faced with a sand liner. The target area itself uses a rubber product made from recycled tires, which by preventing the bullets from shattering enables them to be collected intact. No lead bullets will be fired and Rokeh said that the range would be securely fenced. The operation of the outdoor range will mimic the successful operation of the indoor range, Rokeh added. A range master will be on the firing platform whenever it is in use. Only long rifles firing full metal jacket, non lead bullets will be permitted on the range. Gillespie plans to open the range at 10 a.m. and close one hour before sunset in the spring, summer and fall and shut down in the winter months. Rokeh said the range would include a training facility restricted to law enforcement agencies where no live ammunition would be fired. Noise and safety were uppermost in the minds of those living in the vicinity of the range. Ruth Mooney, who manages horse shows at the Belknap County Fairgrounds, said that modelers ground their radio-controlled aircraft during events so as not to risk spooking the horses. She said that the sound of gunshots could easily frighten a horse, prompting it to rear and throw its rider. Tim Bartlett of Mile Hill Road said that he chose the neighborhood for its tranquillity safety and environment. "I don't want to be subjected to live rounds flying through my neighborhood," he said. He also said that the range must be subject to tight security and close surveillance to prevent people from straying on to it or breaking into it. "I'm also concerned at the possibility of driving the wildlife out of there," said Bartlett. Several speakers pointed out that the area is what Norman Johnson called "a natural amphitheater," where noise echoes and reverberates. Cindy Bartlett pressed the board to explain how it would determine what level of noise could be deemed excessive. "Who is going to decide what is too loud?" she asked. Daigle replied that although the town has a noise ordinance, it does not apply to firearms. Ruth Mooney suggested that the presence of an outdoor firing range could diminish the value of residential property in the vicinity. Daigle said that while is the noise issue may be very subjective, the impact of the range on property values could be projected and said it was a factor the board must weigh in reaching a decision. "Measuring the effect on property values is an affirmative action you can take," she told residents. The lone support for the range came from the New Hampshire Police Association. Writing to the board, Second Vice-President Jeffrey Stiegler of the Laconia Police Department, said "this new concept could be very advantageous to so many police agencies around the state of New Hampshire and perhaps the New England region" as well as "a safe option to the general public." He noted that the dearth of firearm ranges and training facilities is "very taxing" on law enforcement agencies throughout the state.