WATERFORD — A Waterford woman has filed suit against the Town of Waterford, saying her property has been devalued because of the ongoing “extreme” gunfire from the nearby Waterford Fish and Game Club.

Virginia C. Howe of 187 McIntire Road filed suit in Oxford Superior Court on April 23, asking for a reversal of the Oxford County Board of Assessment Review’s denial in March of a request for a tax abatement.

OXBAR members denied Howe’s appeal to have 7.5 percent of her 2012 and 2013 taxes abated because of the gun noise, saying the property owner knew of the gun club’s presence when she purchased the property for $139,000 from her parents in 2012.

The board also agreed with Selectmen Chairman Randy Lessard’s opinion that the $106,030 assessment was $33,000 less than the purchase price and was within 10 percent of the town’s average sales value ratio of 91 properties from 2007 to 2013.

In her petition, filed by attorney Peter Drum of Damariscotta, Howe asks that her future tax bill include the abatement and that she be awarded an unspecified amount for her incurred costs and other relief the court sees as proper.

She asked that the diminution of the value of her property due to the “extreme” gun noise from the nearby Waterford Fish and Game Club should be taken into consideration for the accurate assessment of her property. She said her situation regarding the property tax and that of her neighbors are different because of the gun noise.

“The town has been totally complicit in letting this situation go as it has,” said Virginia’s father, John Howe, who is a joint tenant of the property with his wife, Deborah.

John Howe, who has owned his 175-acre farm on 298 McIntire Road for 30 years, said he and the gun club lived side by side cooperatively for years. Then the former Auburn Gun Club came to Waterford in 2006 and brought in new members to shoot skeet and the noise problem began. By 2008, neighbors were signing petitions asking the selectmen to help for noise abatement, he said.

“The place totally went viral,” said Howe, who said they can hear the gun noise seven days a week from their home about a mile and a half away. “We were just devastated.”

In 2012, the Oxford County Board of Assessment Review granted the tax abatement appeal of John Howe and his wife, Deborah, because of the gun noise. But when their daughter, Virginia, purchased part of their property and sought a similar abatement the following year, she was ultimately denied the abatement by OXBAR in March of this year.

Howe said he does not know why the board had a changed its decision for his daughter’s property when they granted his appeal in 2012, except that there were almost all new members sitting on the Oxford Board of Assessment Review.

“It was a new OXBAR except for one person,” Howe said. “They totally switched their response from 2012. It was a kangaroo court.” 

The Howes’ fight began when Howe and some 16 neighbors formed the Waterford Noise Abatement Coalition and brought their concerns to selectmen.

In 2012, after hearing of the noise complaints, club directors said they began to address some of the issues by constructing sound-absorbing eyebrows and reducing the Sunday skeet shooting.

The gun club, which is accessible through membership only, is used by skeet shooters, other gun enthusiasts and the Police Department for target practice. The club, which was founded in 1940, holds competitions, including this weekend’s Wounded Warrior Shoot, during which time fully automatic weapons will be used, according to the club’s website.

Waterford Selectmen Chairman Randy Lessard told the Sun Journal the board did the right thing in denying the appeal.

“We feel confident OXBAR did the right thing to deny the appeal,” he said. “We think we’re right.” 

In March, annual town meeting voters approved $40,000 for the legal expense account to fight the impending legal battle in court. Lessard said the entire amount has been set aside for this court issue, adding that the town has used very little in legal fees until now.

Howe said he and others will continue to fight against the noise.

“Our best hope for sanity is to keep fighting,” he said.

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