Firing range has residents fired up
By JASON SCHREIBER
Union Leader Correspondent | June 19. 2012 11:32PM
Noise from the rapid succession of gunfire at the nearby Sig Sauer Academy has made life unbearable, insisted Spechuilli and other Epping and Brentwood residents who live near the outdoor firing ranges where military and police officers often train and weapons manufactured by the company are test fired.
“Our home is a bomb shelter. The only difference is we know we don't have to duck,” Spechuilli told selectmen at a special meeting Monday night.
The two-hour meeting was called to address numerous complaints from residents who say they can't enjoy peace and quiet with the sound of gunfire constantly filling the air around their homes seven days a week.
“I like a good war movie … on TV, not across the street,” said Epping resident Jerry Wiederhold, who claims the noise has become so bad that he's reluctant to invite people over to his home.
Sig Sauer Academy is located at 233 Exeter Road near Star Speedway and New England Dragway, but residents said the race tracks don't generate noise on a daily basis.
The noise has been a problem for years, but has worsened in recent years, residents and town officials said.
Monday's meeting was called about a month after residents were rattled by the sound of a “flash bang” set off at the facility. The device commonly used by SWAT or military teams is thrown into a house or a room to emit a flash and a bang before they enter.
Sig Sauer Academy Director Adam Painchaud said he's aware of flash bangs being used only twice in the seven years that he's been there, but town officials said Sig Sauer isn't allowed to use them because they're not manufactured by the company.
Painchaud said flash bangs won't be allowed in the future.
“These people for years have been complaining and they've gotten nowhere. They've given up. The flash bang triggered it,” said Selectman Karen Falcone, board chairman.
Painchaud said he wants to be a good neighbor and urged residents to let him know when they have a complaint. Some said they complained in the past before he was director and they felt their complaints fell on deaf ears.
While town officials and residents said they realize Sig Sauer has an important role in keeping the public protected through its weaponry for military and law enforcement, they argue the firing ranges should have been built indoors.
“I realize the importance of their work, but we need to have our time too,” said Brentwood resident Debbie Harrigan, who has given up on some of her gardening because she can't stand the noise.
Painchaud said the noise problems should be alleviated by the construction of a semi-enclosed range with baffles. The new range, which must still be approved by the planning board, will be used for test firing weapons. He said he hopes to have the range built sometime this year.
In the meantime, Painchaud agreed to eliminate the use of machine guns on the weekends and prohibit training and test firing on holidays. An independent firm will also be hired to conduct sound tests on all of the firearms used at the facility.
Painchaud will also look into the possibility of installing a wall near Route 101 that would serve as a sound barrier, but said he's not sure whether it would be allowed or would address some of the problems.
“I think the biggest problem we're having is this has turned into a lot more and a lot larger than what everybody expected when it first started,” Epping Selectman Tom Gauthier said.
The gunfire is hurting nearby businesses as well, owners said.
Claire Hibbard, who runs 3 Ponds Campground on North Road in Brentwood, said she has 96 families who “pay dearly to come to our park for relaxation and outdoor living” and that the constant noise is affecting her business.
Representatives from the Brentwood Planning Board also attended the meeting and expressed frustration because they haven't been included in Epping's discussions of Sig Sauer's issues over the years despite the fact that part of the facility is in Brentwood and the noise is heard by Brentwood residents and even some residents in Exeter, Fremont and other towns.
Epping officials insisted that in the future Sig Sauer, which opened in 1994, would be considered a site of “regional impact” so that Brentwood would be included in the future.
Wayne St. Hilaire, a former Brentwood selectman, said the facility is affecting property values in his town and that Sig Sauer needs a facility with sound insulation.
“I don't think I'll ever get used to the gunfire at this place,” said St. Hilaire, whose wife works at the Brentwood Town Offices six miles away and can hear the shooting.
Some residents said they keep their windows closed and their TVs and air conditioners turned up to drown out the noise.
Epping neighbor Deborah Roberts said she “thought the end of the world was coming” when the flash bang went off.
“We need our lives back,” the 36-year resident said.
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Jason Schreiber may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.