Bucksport shelves proposal for gun range on top of possible unmarked cemetery

Posted July 26, 2012, at 8:41 p.m.
Last modified July 27, 2012, at 10:16 a.m.

BUCKSPORT, Maine — The town and a local gun club on Thursday decided to table a proposal to lease a portion of town-owned land to the club for a new shooting range.

The plan was shelved indefinitely, at least until the location — or the existence — of an alleged unmarked cemetery at the site can be determined. In the meantime, the Bucks Mills Rod and Gun Club will seek alternative sites for a new range.

The gun club was tentatively offered a portion of the town’s sludge processing site on the Upper Long Pond Road by former Town Manager Roger Raymond.

The town was beginning to consider a 99-year lease on the parcel, but when local cemetery researcher Emeric Spooner learned of the plan, he alerted the town that 19th century maps indicate a graveyard on the property. A member of the Rod and Gun Club, who is also a consulting forester, did his own research and concluded the cemetery, if it existed, is likely in another spot.

The town had indicated its willingness to dig test trenches to find the cemetery, but since then, two other investigations, including one by the code enforcement officer, have come to two different conclusions about where the cemetery may be.

Maine law dictates that a suspected unmarked cemetery would need to be discovered and protected from any possible disturbance, and Town Manager Michael Brennan said the town couldn’t go forward with negotiations with so much uncertainty about the alleged cemetery’s location.

“The town just doesn’t know,” said Town Manager Michael Brennan on Thursday. “We can’t say yes or no. But we don’t want to disturb any potential grave site.”

Town Councilor David Kee said the only way to know for sure would be to conduct a detailed title search and use the most up-to-date technology, such as ground-penetrating radar, to uncover the site. So far, only maps have been consulted.

He said that’s the only way to meet the high standard required by Maine law, which requires the code enforcement officer “be satisfied that the investigation is complete and accurate.”

“I do not believe that half-measures and partial investigations will legally meet this standard,” he said.

Brennan said the town is not prepared to undertake the costs associated with verifying the existence or location of the cemetery.

Frank Dunbar of the Bucks Mills Rod and Gun Club said he’s disappointed that the sludge site deal appears to have fallen through, but he doesn’t begrudge the town’s decision.

“I used to be a councilman, and I understand their caution,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.”

The negotiations for the site may have been fruitless even without the cemetery question hanging overhead. That’s because Bill Olver, the engineer overseeing the expansion of the town’s wastewater processing capabilities, recently told councilors the updated system could produce twice as much sludge.

That means the town might need the parcel of land on Upper Long Pond Road that it had considered leasing to the gun club.

“We don’t know what we’re going to need,” said Councilor Byron Vinton III on Thursday. “It would be foolhardy to give that land away, then in one year or two need it back.”

Dunbar said the club has leads on other potential sites for a shooting range, though he wouldn’t disclose what those sites are. Plus, the town is still willing to let the club investigate the Upper Long Pond Road parcel for a spot on the land that isn’t suspected of holding a cemetery and that the town won’t need for sludge processing.

“Everybody is in favor of doing something to help the Rod and Gun Club, but we’ve got to be cautious,” said Mayor David Keene.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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