The Spurwink Rod & Gun Club will save about $3,000 a year on insurance premiums after the Cape Elizabeth Town Council agreed Monday to reduce the amount of liability coverage the organization must carry from $3 million to $1 million.

The 60-year-old gun club sought the hardship reduction following the recent passage of a new state law that aims to protect outdoor sport shooting ranges that are being affected by increased rural development across Maine.

The law prohibits local ordinances or lawsuits that would limit the operation of existing ranges or force them to close based on noise complaints or longstanding shooting activities.

The council voted 6-1 Monday night to reduce the liability coverage requirement for the gun club, surprising its president, Tammy Walter, who has been locked in a battle with town officials and neighbors for a few years.

“I was actually quite shocked,” Walter said after the meeting. “I thought they would table it.”

Walter said the club will use the $3,000 savings to finish paying for recent safety improvements that allowed the club to reopen its 25-yard pistol shooting range. The town’s police chief suspended shooting at the club last July because of safety concerns. Future savings will be used to upgrade and reopen the club’s 50-meter and 100-yard rifle ranges, she said.

“This was a positive, thoughtful step by the Town Council that helps normalize our operation and helps us put the funds we save into our planned upgrades,” Walter said in a written statement Wednesday.

Walter said reducing the club’s annual liability insurance costs to about $4,100 addresses a real hardship for the organization. The club’s membership has declined from 325 to 222 since the shooting range closures, she said. Annual dues is $75 per member; $65 if they’re over age 65. The club collects about $16,000 in annual dues and brings in $5,000 through fundraising.

Once surrounded mostly by sprawling farms, the club came under increasing scrutiny about a year ago, when the Cross Hill Road neighborhood of $500,000 to $750,000 single-family homes sprang up next door.

As neighbors’ noise and safety complaints mounted, the Town Council passed a shooting range ordinance in 2014, targeting the only gun club in town. The ordinance required the club to apply for an operating license and meet certain safety conditions to get one. State law prevents municipalities from imposing noise restrictions on grandfathered shooting ranges.

The ordinance also required the club to increase its liability insurance from $1 million to $3 million per incident – higher than policies offered through the National Rifle Association or carried by most gun clubs in Maine – though the club never had an incident to claim, Walter said.

The Town Council is expected to consider reducing the required insurance amount to $1 million in the ordinance itself at an upcoming meeting, said Town Manager Mike McGovern. The council supported the gun club’s hardship request after the town’s attorney explained that $1 million is the liability standard.

Gov. Paul LePage signed a new state law in April that allows municipalities to regulate substantial changes in the use of existing shooting ranges, but it makes clear that gun clubs can maintain, repair and improve their ranges, especially to increase safety and handicapped accessibility.

The law doesn’t insulate gun clubs from lawsuits based on negligence or reckless use of a shooting range. It stipulates that ranges must conform “to generally accepted gun safety and shooting range operation practices” and be “constructed in a manner not reasonably expected to allow a projectile to cross the boundary of the range.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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