Vermont Supreme Court hears Laberge shooting range case

After years of controversy, the future of the Laberge Shooting Range is now in the hands of the Vermont Supreme Court.

Located on a family farm on Lime Kiln Road in Charlotte, the shooting range has existed since 1950. Part of a large parcel of land owned by Laberge and Sons, Inc., the shooting range has been embroiled in litigation for years with both the state of Vermont and concerned neighbors.

The Vermont Supreme Court heard arguments on June 27 to determine whether or not the range should be subject to Act 250 review.

The Supreme Court hearing is the latest in a series of court decisions and appeals that began in 2015, when neighbors of the range formed the Firing Range Neighborhood Group and filed a request with the District 4 Environmental Commission to determine whether or not the firing range is a development that should come under Act 250 jurisdiction.

The range comprises 9.9 acres of a 270-acre property. The Laberge family’s lawyers say that the operation is a private, not commercial range, and that the donations they accept go solely toward operational costs.

Though there have been other court cases over the years, including one in 1995 that found in favor of the Laberge family, this latest spate of legal activity from the neighborhood group features a different set of neighbors than the earlier lawsuit.

According to court documents, there are 75 individuals from 42 families in Charlotte and Shelburne who belong to the group. They maintain that since the 1995 decision, improvements and increased donations mean the facility should qualify for Act 250 regulation.

In February 2016, the District 4 coordinator issued an opinion concluding that the range is, in fact, a development subject to Act 250 jurisdiction, since its use over time has changed. The Laberge family appealed that decision with the Natural Resources Board, but the board, which is the Vermont agency charged with enforcing Act 250, affirmed the ruling that the shooting range should fall under its jurisdiction.

The Laberge family then lost an appeal with the Superior Court Environmental Decision in August 2017.

The Neighborhood Group and its attorneys maintain that calling the money that is collected “donations” does not necessarily make it a non-commercial enterprise.

Aside from private citizens, the firing range is also used by the University of Vermont Shooting Club, which trains in pistol firing there most Saturdays of the year, and area police departments, which practice there as well.

The Shelburne Police Department does not practice at the Laberge range. Chief Aaron Noble said they practice at the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Underhill, which is operated by the Vermont National Guard. “It’s more suited for shooting and safety there,” he said, because of its military focus.

The neighbors are concerned about lead in groundwater, noise pollution, the range’s operating hours and the behavior of its clientele.

The Laberge family, which has fought regulations and court cases for years, is represented by Hans Huessy from Burlington law firm Murphy Sullivan Kronk.

Huessy said that during the proceedings, the court addressed the issue of whether or not the range is commercial; a decision, he said, could come any time. “It could be a month, or it could be a year and a half,” before the court decides, he said.

“They could say, ‘We agree with the environmental court,’ and bring it to an end; they could agree in part and send it back to the environmental court for more findings; or they could disagree and require they get a permit.”

He added that although the Laberges would attempt to get an Act 250 permit should it be required by the court, they are not sure they could get one.

Justin Barnard, a lawyer with Dinse Knapp McAndrew, which represents the neighborhood group, declined to comment because the case is still before the Supreme Court.

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