TIVERTON — First came a “motocross park,” now it’s gunshots that neighbors say they’re hearing from a former quarry at 691 Brayton Road.
Town officials say they’re looking into the matter.
“I hear it from where I live,” said Town Councilor Bill Gerlach, who lives half a mile away on King Road near Brayton Road.
“You hear what sounds like gunfire. It has been mentioned at the council level in passing. If there’s an illegal use that’s not permitted, then we’ll have to fix that. It’s a quality of life issue for neighbors and I have to imagine a potential safety issue,” he said.
Town Council President Ed Roderick concurred. “I have heard about the shooting going on out there,” he said, “and we’re looking into it. I can’t say more than that at this time.”
Town Solicitor Andrew Teitz said that a single police incident report, generated in response to a gunfire complaint some months back and others that may have been made more recently, has not been made public since the matter is “under investigation.”
“We are looking into what are they doing out there. Is it a noise violation, is it a zoning violation, or is it both? There are complaints.”
The quarry site consists of approximately 43 acres in two parcels owned by Ray-Lou Realty (of which Raymond E. Johnson is listed as owner) and Camaco Holdings (to which Ray-Lou Realty sold approximately 35 acres in 2011). Mr. Johnson’s interest in the larger parcel is unclear.
In 2009 dirt bike and all-terrain vehicles began flocking to the quarry to ride at a “motocross park” that Mr. Johnson had begun to build and promote. That venture drew the neighbors’ ire and was soon shut down.
The concern now is about shooting.
“I hear it occasionally sometimes during the day,” said Mona Wilsoncroft, 75, of nearby Isabella Avenue. “You can hear it more in the summer than the winter, down in the quarry, off and on for quite a while. I get to thinking, that’s awful close. It doesn’t really bother me, but it’s awfully close.” Her late husband was a hunter, she said.
“I certainly have heard it,” said Michael Shinego, 57, who lives on Deer Run Road directly across Brayton Road from the quarry. “They’ve been doing it at least a year, certainly on weekends. Most of the day, when it’s light out. When it’s nice weather they’re shooting away over there.”
Mr. Shinego said he worries about safety. “You never know with a stray bullet. Last weekend I did hear shooting going on over there.”
Chris Sousa lives a quarter mile north of the quarry. “I’m hearing it so much now, it’s like white noise,” he said. “It’s not seven days a week now like it used to be but are they shooting down there? Yes, they’re shooting down there. They’re shooting all kinds of rifles, all kinds of guns, rapid fire, like machine guns. A lot of people are complaining.”
Another neighbor, Joseph Newberry, said, “I’ve heard it and it doesn’t disturb me in any way.”
Added another who asked not to be identified, “I hear it but I don’t want to get involved in the gunshot stuff. I hope it doesn’t grow.”
“I hear the guns,” said another neighbor who also did not want to be identified. “At any given time of the day, you can hear it. You can see the cars coming and going.”
The quarry owner responds
Ray Johnson, who owns and operates the quarry area, is aware of what people are saying. “I’m getting a lot of heat from my neighbors,” he said. “It’s not a business,” he says. “I do it with Randy [Lebeau]. I let him come in and use the place.”
Randy Lebeau is the owner of Sakonnet River Outfitters, a Tiverton gun shop on Main Road, that bills itself as “a one stop shop for firearms, accessories, and ammunition.”
Last fall, the gun shop Facebook page announced its first annual “pumpkin shoot,” set for Sunday, Nov. 3.
“Join us for the first annual pumpkin exploding extravaganza,” the invitation reads. It will cost $20 to participate, $1 per shot “or 6 shots for $5.” Ten of the 20 pumpkins used as targets will have “exploding tannerite in them.”
Earlier in the fall, the same Facebook page announced the shop’s “first weekly three gun tactical shoot,” involving rifles, pistols, and shotguns, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 7.
Participants were to have one hour of “practice range time” (including a safety briefing), followed by a “full tactical course set-up for one shooter at a time,” carrying weights, while advancing to “different forms of cover” to “train the shooter how to fire under pressure,” prone and standing, with moving targets and staged weapon failures, “to put skills to the test.”
Mr. Johnson and Mr. Lebeau said both the pumpkin shoot and three-gun tactical shoot were held as scheduled.
Asked for comment about his use of the quarry for shooting, Mr. Lebeau said Saturday that he would allow himself to be interviewed only if his lawyer was present, and the interview was videotaped. “I don’t want to be misquoted.”
Mr. Johnson said he as created “a bunker style place,” at the quarry, where there’s an embankment 20 to 40 feet tall.
He estimated that it is about 2,200 feet from the nearest dwelling. People shoot in a southwest direction, he said.
Protections include “a backstop and concrete barriers and a steel plate,” he said. “It’s a place set up for gun safety and gun education.”
“I don’t charge them. I’m a member of the Sakonnet Outfitters,” he said.
Besides customers of Sakonnet Outfitters, Mr. Johnson said the shooting area has been used by correctional officers and “a couple of Tiverton police.”
The law and zoning
Town zoning official Gareth Eames said the quarry is a legal non-conforming use in that R-80 zone — as long as it’s used as a quarry, it’s okay.
“But if you’re going to start another business on the site, you have to go to the zoning board for relief and get a permit.”
But Mr. Johnson said he’s not operating a shooting business at the quarry.
A state law (RIGL 11-47-50) says a property owner can discharge a gun on his or her own property, and so can another person with the owner’s permission.
Another law prohibits the discharge of firearms within 500 feet of an occupied dwelling.