SEABROOK — Town officials are exploring ways to safely reopen a town-owned firing range that they insist was poorly managed before it was forced to close last year after a bullet struck the window of a business in nearby Kensington.
Several residents spoke out at a selectmen’s meeting Monday expressing their support for opening the range, but police and town officials stressed that proper safety policies and procedures must be in place first to protect users, the public and the environment.
Selectmen voted to create a committee that will look at issues that need to be addressed and make a recommendation to the board within 90 days.
“There’s not one board member here that’s against the gun range,” Selectman Theresa Kyle told the audience.
The incident occurred last February when a bullet struck an upstairs window to a conference room at CP Building Supply, which is located at 268 Amesbury Road in Kensington and is about 1,000 feet away from the shooting range off Route 107.
The range is in Kensington but is owned by the town of Seabrook.
Kensington police worked with Seabrook police and the state Fish and Game Department to determine that bullets were fired in the direction of the business.
The range is used by the public and police.
Kensington Police Chief Scott Sanders said there was not supervision at the time of the incident and that rules and regulations weren’t being followed.
“The people that were doing this were at a minimum negligent, but I would say reckless. They weren’t following the rules of the range. They weren’t shooting where they were supposed to and they weren’t doing what they were supposed to. It was obvious,” he said.
Sanders said the range needs to be safe for visitors and nearby residents and businesses, and protecting the groundwater from lead contamination must be taken seriously.
Town Manager Bill Manzi said safety improvements are needed, including possible background checks to make sure no “bad actors” are using the range.
According to Sanders, a convicted felon had used the range.
Kyle read from a report issued by the town manager that explained how an investigation found that management of the range was not up to minimum standards and didn’t incorporate best practices.
“The financial reporting was slipshod and does not meet any standard acceptable under municipal finance law practices. No background checks were conducted,” the report said.
Record keeping also didn’t meet minimal standards while environmental standards and the environmental protection area were “nonexistent,” Kyle said as she continued reading from the report.
Improvements could cost at least $50,000, according to officials.
Town officials want the range to be self-sufficient and not funded through tax dollars, which could be accomplished by setting up a membership program with fees that would also allow for background checks.
Seabrook state Rep. William Fowler agreed that a membership option with fees would help offset costs associated with the range. He said volunteers and members of the police department could also assist with managing the range and providing proper supervision during hours of operation.
Jim Goldthwait, a retired longtime police officer in town, who was also a firearms instructor and teaches hunter education, said he didn’t believe the round that hit the building came from the range. But police insisted their investigation showed the bullet came from the range.