Couple locked in dispute with gun club threatens town with lawsuit

WATERFORD — A couple engaged in a long-standing dispute with the Waterford Fish and Game Association is considering a lawsuit against selectmen and code enforcement officers for offenses they claim go back to 2005.

In a letter to selectmen dated Sept. 7, Peter Drum, an attorney representing John and Deborah Howe, claims the town allowed the association to expand at its location on Route 118 without a required site plan review. The expansion included construction of a clubhouse in 2006 and two skeet sheds in 2005.

The association received building permits for both projects, but Drum contends the CEO did not have the power to grant those permits.

"The failure by WFAGA to successfully obtain site plan approval renders their building permit improper, is a violation of state law, and renders the use of the range illegal as a nuisance," Drum wrote.

The addition of two pistol ranges and a storage building at the range between 2007 and 2009 similarly violated the site plan review process, Drum alleges.

The selectmen and CEO are "personally liable for neglect of office, on a daily basis, under multiple counts, since WFAGA changed the use of its site in 2005, and have likely violated the civil rights of every resident impacted by WFAGA," Drum wrote.

In a December interview, Randy Lessard, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the allegations are unfounded.

According to Lessard, the two skeet buildings are small enough not to require a site plan review. The new clubhouse replaced a building and also did not require a site plan review, Lessard said.

Lessard said the CEO at the time evaluated both projects and did not deem a site plan review by the planning board to be necessary.

According to Lessard, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the issue but determined there was insufficient evidence the expansion violated town ordinance.

Lessard said the town's attorneys and Maine Municipal Association were surprised at the threatened lawsuit.

"They're not overly concerned about what the results would be," Lessard said. "I guess they feel fairly confident that we would do well in court."

The Howes have been locked in a dispute with association over the noise level and escalated shooting at the site since 2007.

In a December interview, John Howe said escalated activity at the club has degraded the couple's quality of life and reduced their property values.

Other residents are affected by WFAGA's activities but town officials will do nothing to stop it, Howe said.

He said the couple will continue to pursue their case.

"We have lost the right to enjoy the privacy of our beautiful property," Howe said. "We will not give up."

On Tuesday, Howe said the couple is not opposed to shooting or guns, they only want the noise reduced.

He said the couple would be happy to "step up to the plate" and partially fund improvements to the shooting ranges, like proper sound enclosures, that would lessen the noise.

He hoped to work out an arrangement with the club that would be to everyone's benefit.

According to then-WFAGA President John Conti, interviewed in December, the club did not add two ranges, only modified its existing arrangements.

The club also installed sound-absorbing roofing on its ranges to reduce noise, Conti said. He pointed to informal sound measurements taken by Lessard that appear to show a reduction in decibels after roofing was installed.

Howe said the changes have made little difference in the noise at his property and the sound measurements were flawed.

In December, Lessard said he would like to see WFAGA continue to work on its noise levels and expressed hope the matter could be resolved.

Reached Monday, Lessard said the town had not again heard from the Howes, which he hoped was a good sign.

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MICHAEL FOX's picture


These people have harrased the town and the gun range since 2008. Why? Because they can hear a little noise from their home. I live closer to the range than they do and it does not bother me. The gun range is doing everything possible to comply with what the Howes want, but the Howes keep on trying to find fault.

They even got a tax abatement one year. The town is spending money defending these bogus claims. I wish the town was able to go after the Howes for the court and lawer fees they have had to pay out because of this.

Now. What really happened. In the years 2004 to 2007, a large tract of land was selectively cut to thin out some trees to let others grow. This got rid of half the noise buffer. But the Howes continue to overlook that fact. What are they going to do to the land owner? Sue them for properly managing their land?

Robert McQueeney's picture

Some points are missing from this article.

For example, how long has this gun club been there and how long have the Howes been there? It is always my contention that you can't move next to a farm and then complain about the smell.

To say that the gun club expanded their use is not such a big deal. Over our lives, everyone adds on to their home, expands their garden, what ever.

 's picture

Having been involved... a similar problem in another part of the state, I'm betting the gun club was there long before the complainants moved in.


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