May 11, 2011

Advocates pitch shooting range plan

By Keith Edwards
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- State officials say a shooting range they plan to build in the Summerhaven pits area off Sanford Road will make shooting already taking place there safer and cleaner.

The range would be available to the public, Greg Sanborn, deputy chief game warden for the state, told Augusta planners, and give shooters a free place to shoot.

They're already doing it there anyway, he said. Some people bring in old televisions, batteries, and other items to shoot, and leave the litter behind, leaving the pits a mess, he added.

"It's getting quite a bit of use already," Sanborn said. "I'd say use and abuse. People were bringing stuff in and shooting it up, TV sets, stolen cars, batteries, unenvironmentally friendly stuff was being brought in and shot up."

Sanborn said he shoots at the site himself and once watched as a man fired off 40 rounds, with bullets bouncing off the ground and going all over the place, as they tried to "sight-in" a 30/30 rifle.

"The reality is, folks, people are shooting out there every day right now, and I mean indiscriminately," Sanborn said. "As I watched this fellow with the 30/30, he shot off all 40 rounds, $35 worth of ammo, and he was no closer to the target than when he started. And those lead bullets went through the woods, which is not only an environmental problem, but also a safety problem for anybody behind that. We'd have a designated area, with berms where bullets are supposed to be caught. And where it's our piece of property, game wardens would try to keep track of it."

Sanborn said an established, clean site would encourage shooters to clean up after themselves as well, and the site would become self-policing.

Matt Nazar, deputy development director for the city, noted that the state project doesn't actually need the approval of the city.

"The state is exempt from local zoning in most cases," Nazar said. "This is on state property and will be a state-run facility."

However Sanborn said if the proposal faces significant opposition, they'll back down.

"If there is any opposition, we want to know about it," he said. "If you folks are going to take us to court to prevent this, we'll leave it just the way it is. We don't have the money to go to court. But if we get your support for this, we'd like to see it happen. I spend a fair amount of time down on that road, and it needs to come under control a bit."

No members of the public spoke against the proposal.

Planners spoke favorably of the plan.

"From my perspective, if we do nothing, nothing is going to change. This area has been used for this since I was a child," said Peter Pare, board member. "If somebody wants to take something and make it self-managing, self-improving, I can't see a downside to it. You're still going to have the noise issue whether this happens or not, because you can shoot there now. But if you don't do something, it isn't a safe environment."

The site is near the Augusta-Manchester line in an area pockmarked extensively by working quarries and gravel pits. It is on a 114 acre state-owned parcel of land that includes the Governor Hill Fish Hatchery and Rearing Station, which is accessed off Burns Road.

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647


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