Gun club's plan raises toxic issue

HOLLIS – In a letter published in the 2008 Town Report, assistant planner Virginia Mills singles out an ongoing controversy involving the Lone Pine Hunters Club, a group of neighbors and the town, as “one of the longest, most controversial, and most expensive cases the board has ever dealt with.”

She wasn’t exaggerating.

On Tuesday, when the Planning Board meets, the case will continue, as one more step is taken in an ongoing application for site plan approval.

At issue is the extent of toxic waste on the club’s property.

Samples taken from a section of the property show lead levels in excess of safe limits for human exposure, according to Terracon of Manchester, hired by the sporting club, at the direction of the state Department of Environmental Services.

The study also found high levels of other toxic substances, including arsenic.

The hunting and fishing club is seeking permission to use the property for social, recreational and sporting purposes – but without reopening its trap and skeet range, an area linked to ground and water contamination.

Neighbors, who organized a decade ago, say the sporting club has polluted the ground and water with lead from spent bullets, which have leached into the ground, and from clay pigeons, also buried on the property.

In response, the club has told the town it is putting trap and skeet activities on a back burner until environmental issues are addressed.

But opponents say it’s all outdoor shooting, not just trap and skeet, that has caused the pollution.

The application for a site plan that goes to the board Tuesday requests approval for club activities, including archery, social events, and rifle and pistol range shooting.

An expert from the state Department of Environmental Services is scheduled to report on environmental tests at a Planning Board meeting in March.

The case’s history goes back to 1966, after the Nashua-based sportsmen’s club moved to Hollis.

At the time, the sporting club consisted of one building set on a remote 118-acre property on Rideout Road, near the bank of the Nashua River.

There is little documentation of the club’s early history in town.

What’s common knowledge however, is that during the 30-plus years after the club came to Hollis, as the town grew and the wooded areas near the club were developed, people, primarily from Hannah Drive, began to complain about noise from shooting.

“We started this ten years ago to investigate and regulate the environmental pollution and the gunshot noise,” said Bruce McClure, head of the neighbors group. “It’s what we’ve been trying to do for ten years.”

Thomas Hildreth, the attorney representing the neighbors, said the 1999 Memorial Day weekend was “like a war zone” when the shooting events began, disturbing family cookouts and gatherings in neighbors’ yards.

The neighbors went to the Board of Selectmen with their concerns, Hildreth said.

This was the beginning of a chain of events that led to two decisions by the state Supreme Court about the operation of the sporting club.

Club President Paul Prunier was unavailable for comment, as was Bob Cormier, the engineer working on the case for the sporting club.

“The bottom line is, Tuesday is the continuation of the application, hearing from the applicant’s environmental expert,” Planning Board Chairman Ed Makepeace said during a phone interview from Florida on Wednesday.