Couple files suit in gun-range dispute

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PARIS — A Waterford couple has filed suit against a local fish and game club, charging that the noise from a firearms range is a nuisance.

John and Debbie Howe charged the Waterford Fish and Game Association with nuisance, negligent infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium. Prior to filing the lawsuit at Oxford County Superior Court, the Howes made several appearances at Waterford Board of Selectmen meetings to raise concerns about the club’s shooting range on Route 118.

According to the minutes of the meetings, the Howes said they formed the Waterford Noise Abatement Coalition to raise concerns about noise from the range. Along with other residents, they said that some firing was done in the early-morning hours and they questioned whether the club had expanded without going before a site plan review.

Paul Brook, vice president of Waterford Fish and Game, said the club’s facilities have undergone a number of renovations but no expansion. He said the renovations included the construction of a new clubhouse on the larger footprint of the older one and the installation of a berm that cut the size of the rifle range.

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Brook said a skeet-shooting range was put in, but it replaced a trap-shooting site and uses smaller guns than the 12-gauge shotguns used in trap shooting.

“Effectively, there has been no expansion,” Brook said. “We just made the place better.”

In the lawsuit, submitted by lawyers Peter Drum and Patrick Parson, the Howes say they have owned a farmhouse and property on McIntire Road since 1976. They say the range is within earshot, but did not result in any problems until after 2007. Then, the couple says, the noise increased due to more use of the range in the early morning and late evening as well as expanded use of shotguns and automatic weapons.

“The increased volume, intensity, frequency, and duration of firearms use at the range has become injurious and dangerous to the health, comfort, and property of the plaintiffs,” the lawsuit claims.

The Howes say the noise has resulted in decreased property value, the loss of quiet use of their property and severe anxiety and depression on Debbie’s part. The loss of consortium charge says the latter effect has resulted in John’s “loss of marital comfort, companionship, and affection.”

The suit asks for a court-ordered nuisance abatement, including a halt to the use of shotguns and automatic weapons at the range and a return to a firing level comparable to that of April 2006 to April 2007. It also asks the club to pay compensatory damages and any other relief deemed proper by the court.

Brook said four law-enforcement agencies use the range, sometimes in the morning or evening. He said the club tries to limit use of the range from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and that there have not been any complaints from the immediate neighbors. The range is also closed if events are taking place at the nearby Waterford Inn or Pulpit Rock Cemetery.

Brook said the club was unaware of the Howes’ concerns until late last summer. He said their home is 1.4 miles from the range, and he could not hear shots when he went there as weapons were being used at the range.

mlangeveld@sunjournal.com

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