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 jurisdiction.

Last week’s 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 larger 270-acre piece of 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 43 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 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.

This post was updated with a correction to the name of the firing range owners business name. 

8 Responses to "Vermont Supreme Court hears Laberge shooting range case"

  1. Scott Bjerke   July 5, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    The Laberge shooting range is a landmark in the Charlotte community, a treasured piece of property so graciously opened up to us sportsmen. As a boy, Mr. Laberge taught me hunter and firearm safety, a skill set I in turn pass along to many of my friends and family members who have expressed interest in sport shooting and/or personal defense. The FREE use of this property enables this education and perpetuates safe fun handling, experience that simply cannot be taught outside of a range. I would like to thank the entire Laberge family for their gracious donation to the community over the years and I truly hope the courts are able to see what a true gem this resource is.

    Reply
  2. Benjamin Koch   July 5, 2018 at 8:49 pm

    The Laberge’s run a critical, nonprofit operation that offers a necessary training location for multiple law enforcement departments. They offer a safe place for sportsmen to sight in their rifles before each hunting season. This range is a critical place for sportsmen, police and shooters to train, learn and complete components of hunter and firearm safety.

    Vermont needs this range.

    Reply
  3. Dave Ealker   July 5, 2018 at 8:50 pm

    The range has operated safely for decades. I have shot there for 30+years myself. The high court should drop this case, and require the opposition to pay damages to the Laberge family. As well, It shouldn’t need an act 250permit because it existed before act 250, and well before the complaining neighbors lived there. This case is a sham, to regulate guns, use of guns, and use if property. The range has been utilized for decades by local and state law enforcement, in addition to thousands of hunters and sportsman alike. It’s unfortunate the Laberge family has had to contend with all this crap, and that despite their wins, the opposition continues to persue legal actions. VT has become a sad place when this kind of stuff keeps happening.

    Reply
  4. Nate james   July 5, 2018 at 9:01 pm

    The range is a great pop place for sportsman ,police , and others to have a peaceful place to go shoot their firearms. The state needs to get back to what’s important to vermont’s heritage not their check books. Donations help keep the lawn mowed, clean up and range repairs. Its sad the state is trying to shut them down. Shame on them.

    Reply
  5. Ben Miner   July 6, 2018 at 5:42 am

    The Laberge family has provided a safe place to for 1000’s of people to shoot for 68 years. I sincerely hope the range continues for another 60+ years.

    Reply
  6. Andrew Brown   July 6, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    The Laberge Family is the reason that I began my hobbies hunting and shooting. The range is convenient, safely located, and never once have I seen misuse or disrespect by other users. Thanks to the continued support from shooters and determination to provide an enjoyable experience by the Laberge Family, my son is now learning how to shoot, at this family-owned property, as well. For those opposing the range, maybe its time for a new hobby besides pissing and moaning. Perhaps you too should pick up a gun, get a few friends together and enjoy an afternoon outside with harmless friendly sportsmanship. As long as the “gate is open”, I will always continue to shoot, donate, and support this family in their cause. As for the neighbors, it is rural VT. The range has been them since 1950. You knew it was there before you moved in. Don’t like it? Pack up and get out.
    – Yours truly,
    “A Laberge Family Supporter”

    Reply
  7. Doug Connelly   July 8, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    I live close to the range and hear the gunfire well. Your points are great ones, and the range does have value here. But we cant deny that it effects the surrounding environment and community members. Some neighbors, including me, don’t want the range entirely gone, however it seems like some basic structure or compromise shouldnt be too tricky to figure out. Perhaps not on Sunday’s? Daily hours that allow peaceful beers in the evening? 7-7pm? I dont know the legal details of the case but at the current level of operation (UVM team, police depts ~200+ days/yr) a bit of structure seems important, and that sort of community compromise has also been something done well in Vermont since 1950.

    Reply
  8. Larry ransom   August 18, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    I have been shooting at Laberge’s range since Louie opened it I worked with Louie for over 35 years he was just a real great person always willing to help someone out with there guns sighting in or repairs and his wife Judy is also a beautiful person making wedding cakes for everyone. Why can’t the State just see the value in this range police departments and even armed security companies use this range to practice and qualify. It’s just a shame Vermont can’t see the value of training its youth in firearm use, safe handling of guns and the future of hunting. These people that dislike guns also dislike the Military I am a Veteran and if it wasn’t for The military they wouldn’t be able to complain🇺🇸 Let’s hope these people can see this as an opportunity for our State and use some common sense.

    Reply

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