Environmental concerns a top priority for opponents of Granby Gun Club rifle range

  • The Granby Bow and Gun Club on Chicopee Street in Granby.

For the Gazette
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

GRANBY — Robin LaBorde keeps a binder filled with letters, meeting notes, and Google Earth screenshots documenting opposition to the Granby Bow and Gun Club’s approximately 1,000-yard rifle range.* With the arrival of a no-trespassing notice, it could get thicker.

Last week, the town Select Board issued the Granby club a cease-and-desist order for the range, saying it was built without proper permits. The next day, Hampshire County Sheriff’s deputies served three area residents, including LaBorde, with no-trespassing notices issued by the gun club.

The notices arrived after LaBorde and other neighbors campaigned against the range, complaining about noise, safety and environmental issues associated with weapons being fired there. He said the notices are just the latest example of the club responding poorly to residents’ concerns.

“They keep saying they’re working with the neighbors to solve problems and I have not been able to talk to a neighbor who’s heard anything from them for fixing anything,” said LaBorde, who has lived across the street from the club since 1987.

“The noise is definitely annoying,” added Molly Bragiel, who lives near the club on Chicopee Street. She said she can hear shots from therange from as early as 7:30 in the morning until dark. The Club’s hours state that it does not open until 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday and opens Sunday at 1 p.m. 

“I’ve lived on this street basically my whole life,” she said. “It definitely has gotten worse with the rifle range.”

Martha Dean, an attorney representing the club, responded that club officials have tried to respond to the concerns of nearby residents by, for instance, prohibiting particularly loud weapons. Dean said the no-trespass notices were issued after some neighbors created safety problems by intruding on the property and were prepared before the town issued the cease-and-desist order. 

“The no trespassing orders were issued by the police after the Club reported that certain individuals were trespassing repeatedly on the Club’s range and causing disturbances,” Dean said in a club statement to the Gazette. “The operation of firearms is a dangerous sport that requires concentration and accuracy, and the individuals who were willfully trespassing were interfering with an environment conducive to the safe operation of firearms at the Club’s range.”

Granby Police Chief Alan P. Wishart Jr. said his department distributed approximately 10 blank no-trespassing orders to a representative from the Granby Bow and Gun Club. As is standard with such notices issued by landowners, the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Department served them.

Environmental concerns

In addition to their complaints about noise, some neighbors of the gun club said they worry about possible environmental issues.

LaBorde is especially bothered by the club’s proposed use of “BioMix,” an erosion-resistant artificial topsoil made from paper fibers and compost that he worries might run off and contaminate local watersheds.

“If they put that stuff in, they could affect half the town,” he said, “Most of the town uses well water.”

The club’s statement said the topsoil application plan, “is going through the proper permitting channels, and it has already been approved by the Conservation Commission.”

“The sensational claims made by certain range opponents in the media have no basis in fact,” it continued, “and appear designed to needlessly stir up public fear and anger.”

Not all of the shooting club’s neighbors object to the gun club.

“The gun club being so close is actually part of the reason we moved here and bought this house,” said Jennifer Peacey, who lives on Chicopee Street. Her husband, Scott, is a gun club member and U.S. Navy veteran.

“I would be really sad to see the whole thing shut down. I know people who travel from New York and Connecticut,” said Peacey. “A lot of people put a lot of time and money into it, too.”

The Bow and Gun Club has operated since 1947 and is led by officers including Debi and Andre Mercier. Representatives of the non-profit club said they have tried to respond to neighborhood concerns by restricting the hours of operation, requiring shooters to demonstrate their skill and limiting the power of weapons used on the range.*

Critics accuse the club of clear-cutting trees and dramatically expanding the range to the length of 10 football fields without proper permits or regard for neighbors’ concerns. The club’s attorney counters that the length of the range is nothing new.

“Despite reports in the media, there is no ‘new rifle range,’” the club’s statement said. “Club members have always set targets at varying distances on the Club’s range.”

While opinions vary on when the range allowed for shooting long distances, the Select Board recently concluded that the club had overstepped its government permissions.

Zoning complaints

“The Select Board, acting as the zoning enforcement agency, issued a cease-and-desist order for the 1,000-yard range that the gun club started without getting the proper permits,” Chairman Mark Bail said Sept. 5.

At an Aug. 7 meeting, LaBorde criticized Granby officials for not fining the Bow and Gun Club for violating town zoning regulations.

“They won’t let me build anything without a permit, but they let them do it,” LaBorde said in an interview. “It’s very confusing.”

Wishart says the police department rarely receives complaints about zoning issues, and that area residents tend to take their concerns straight to the Select Board.

Usually, the town’s zoning enforcement officer handles permitting disputes, but after Steve Reno stepped down on Aug. 17, the Select Board has been acting as the town’s zoning enforcement agency.

“I think the only thing we would be involved in would be if they (club members) violate the bylaws or if there is some sort of criminal charge that came with it down the road,” Wishart said. “My guess is they will comply with it (the cease-and-desist order) and there will be some sort of legal action one way or another.”

Stray bullets are also a concern to neighbors of the gun club, as are the lead bullet casings neighbors fear could contaminate the surrounding wetlands.

“I can’t tell where the people are shooting and in what direction,” Bragiel said. “People come over and they’re like, ‘where’s all that shooting coming from?’ and I’m like, ‘the gun club.’ They seem scared, but I’m sure it’s safe.”

LaBorde, a former member of the Bow and Gun Club, thinks membership has gone up. “They’re increasing membership because they’re advertising they have the longest targets in New England,” he said.

“Club membership has been increasing steadily for many years as interest in the shooting sports has been growing again here and throughout the country,” the club wrote in its statement. 

The community debate comes with a cost. According to its website, the club set up a legal defense donation page to help pay the $5,000 already accrued in legal fees.

LaBorde hopes that the result will be a downsized club and smoothed neighborhood relations. “The best solution would be they are made to put it back to legal standards,” LaBorde said, “That would mean no long range because they overdid  it.”

*This article has been updated to correct the length of the Club’s rifle range and to clarify that the Granby Bow and Gun Club is a non-profit organization where Debi and Andre Mercier are officers (serving as secretary and president) not owners of the club.