By Ray Carbone
WARNER – Officials with the Hopkinton School District say the construction of a proposed shooting range/retail gun store in this town, and nearby two of their town’s schools, would not be in the best interests of the teachers and students.
“The existence of a gun range in close proximity to Hopkinton Middle School and High School impacts the students’ and faculty’s sense of security,” Superintendent Steven Chamberlain wrote in a recent letter to the Hopkinton board of selectmen. “Members of the school community feeling safe is of paramount concern.”
The letter is part of a package of materials gathered by the Hopkinton selectmen in response to a request from the Warner planning board. The planners are currently considering a $1.4-million shooting facility application for a site on Warner Road, near exit 7 off I-89 and about three miles from the Maple Street location of the two Hopkinton schools. Due to its proximity to Contoocook village, the Warner board invited input from Hopkinton residents and officials, as well as the nonprofit Central New Hampshire Planning Commission.
The Warner planning board members decided to move forward with the suggestion of an environmental study (of the proposed shooting range site).
At the planning board’s meeting held in town hall on Monday, May 15, the members accepted the materials gathered by the Hopkinton selectmen, including approximately 80 messages from various members of the community.
The planners also reviewed a letter from the regional planning commission, according to vice-chairman Barbara Annis. The commission recommended that the applicant, Eric Miller of Sutton, hire a licensed traffic engineer to consider traffic issues around the planned site, off Route 103 near MadgeTech, Inc. The letter also suggested that an independent environmental engineering firm “review and make recommendations on the suitability of the range’s design to prevent nuisance noise impact,” as well as the possibility of toxic materials being released into the environment, Annis explained.
The traffic issue was also mentioned in the Hopkinton school district letter. “(The shooting range/store) will sit on a defined training route for the Hopkinton middle school and high school cross-country, Nordic skiing and track programs,” it reads. “Increased traffic increases risk.”
Late last week, Jim O’Brien, chairmen of the Hopkinton board of selectmen, said that his board mentioned the matter of “lead abatement” related to discharged firearms at the proposed facility in its own letter to the Warner planners. “We’re not lead experts, but we’ve heard a lot of concerns, so we asked them to pay special attention to that,” O’Brien said.
The possibility of pollution problems at the range is something that developer Miller had heard before, from both Warner and Hopkinton residents. On Friday, he said that lead from discharged ammunition at the range would primarily be captured by bullet traps near the target areas. In addition, lead particles released into the air by firearms would be gathered by a up-graded air filtration system, he explained. “The typical HVAC system for a building this size should cost about $25,000,” he said. “Ours will run in excess of $200,000…. The air leaving the building (will be) actually cleaner than the air that enters it.”
At a previous planning board meeting, Chairman Ben Frost explained that his group invited input from the regional planning commission and from Hopkinton officials because the proposed shooting range is close to Hopkinton and could be seen considered to have regional impact.
But neither of the two groups will have any legal standing regarding Miller’s application, he said, which the planning board will decide in a public vote.
The Warner board members decided to move forward with the planning commission’s suggestion of an environmental study at the conclusion of last week’s meeting. They asked Miller to give the town $2,500 to pay for the work. Miller said that he delivered the check the next day.
But the planning board rejected the traffic study proposal from the commission. At a previous meeting, the members indicated that Warner Road would be able to handle any additional traffic generated by the shooting range without any problem.
Annis said the members now have until their next meeting on June 1 to review all the materials that’s been submitted in recent weeks. That includes “multiple letters, both pro and con” on the shooting range project, she said, as well as all the correspondence and 20 pages of information that was provided last Monday night by attorney Paul Alfano of Concord.
Alfano represents Norman Carlson, the founder and president of MadgeTech, in the resident’s efforts to derail Miller’s application. In March, Carlson announced his intention to move his high-tech company out of Warner if the shooting facility is allowed to move forward on the land adjacent to his plant. Approximately 60 people are currently employed at MadgeTech and Carlson is looking at expanding his operation.
Last month, Alfano asked the Merrimack Superior Court to overturn a ruling by the Warner Zoning Board of Adjustment that granted Miller an acceptable “amusement and recreation service” variance for his firearms project. Alfano’s court action claims that not all abutters to the site – including MadgeTech – were legally notified about the ZBA hearing and, therefore, the variance is invalid. A decision from the court is expected on June 26.
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, NH, on May 23, 2017.