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Talks continue between Cape Elizabeth gun club, neighbors; safety expert sought

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Talks continue between Cape Elizabeth gun club, neighbors; safety expert sought

CAPE ELIZABETH — Mediation between the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club and its neighbors is continuing after the Town Council recommended hiring a consultant to review safety at the shooting range.

Residents in the Cross Hill Neighborhood have raised concerns about noise, stray bullets and environmental impacts from the club's 56-year-old shooting range on Sawyer Road, built decades before the neighborhood existed.

Club members say they operate a safe range and deny any claims of errant rounds.

Although the dispute dates back almost two decades, a lawyer representing a client in the neighborhood, which is north of the range and separated by a wooded area, brought the issue to councilors' attention again in April, asking them to review the safety conditions.

One persistent complaint from neighbors dates back to a bullet found lodged in the side of a home in 2009, allegedly from the range. Police said it was unclear where the bullet originated.

"Everyone has to realize that the club is steadfast in our belief that the errant round did not come from our club, period," Club President Mark Mayone said this week. "A lot of time it's used strictly as a fear issue to get people against our club."

In a mid-October council workshop, the two sides agreed to find a consultant to review the situation and provide recommendations for improvements.

The club recommended hiring South Portland resident Quirino Lucarelli, a National Rifle Association-certified range adviser, according to club officials.

The neighbors' lawyer, Jamie Wagner, who is also a candidate for Town Council, said he contacted Lucarelli, but has not heard back from the NRA to verify the consultant's qualifications.

"I have had communications with another expert and am considering retaining that individual," Wagner said in an e-mail. "There has been no agreement yet on which consultant will be used, or whether both will be used."

Both parties agree that communication about the issue has improved, but Mayone said no future meetings have been scheduled because of calendar conflicts.

Wagner said although dialogue has improved, the ammunition containment and noise abatement improvements he wants to see have not been made.

The club has made several improvements to modernize the range in the last three years, Mayone said, although the changes were part of the 300-member-club's five-year plan and were not done to placate neighbors.

"If the neighbors had never approached the Town Council, all of the things we've done would have moved forward anyway," he said, noting that the one improvement spurred by discussions is a now 60-percent-complete fence around the range. "More than anything, it's just that the membership wanted to do all this stuff."

Some of the improvements include adding surveillance and installing a secure entrance that requires individual entry codes, so the club can identify who has been at the range, Mayone said.

The club has also added ballistic sand to berms and started work on a covered shooting shed, which will likely reduce noise, he said.

"We want to do lots of stuff, but there are financial restraints we have to worry about," Mayone said. "The threat of litigation prevents us from spending money on what we want to do."

Wagner told the council in April that he thinks "the town needs to consider its own liability with regard to the safety of its citizens. ...This is not an anti-sportsman issue. This is not an anti-gun issue."

The town does not license or regulate the range, and noise restrictions at gun ranges are determined at the state and federal level, Council Chairwoman Sara Lennon said.

"The truth is the town doesn't have much sway," she said. "All we're trying to do is encourage and cheer-lead them to work together and compromise, and do all those kinds of things that lead to good solutions."

Lennon said the main issue is safety and that the council hopes the parties can agree on a consultant to assess the situation.

The council is expected to hear an update at its Nov. 14 meeting.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.