On July 31, Bruce Ryan returned to the banks of the Winooski River to look for new lead shotgun pellets that might have sailed over a containment curtain recently erected at the Montpelier Gun Club.
He says he did find evidence of new lead shot on the riverbanks. Ryan also encountered something else: a Berlin police officer who cited him for trespassing on gun-club property.
Ryan (pictured) is an anti-lead crusader from Highgate Center who spent 16 years trying to draw the government's attention to gun club's pollution problem. In April of this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finally issued an enforcement order against the club after inspectors found piles of spent lead shot — considered a toxic substance by the EPA — in the Winooski and on its banks, a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
Seven Days profiled Ryan and his years-long campaign in the recent cover story "Long Shot." In it, Ryan said he ignored previous trespass warning letters mailed to him by the club's lawyers. But he couldn't ignore the police when they responded to a complaint by club directors during the biggest shooting event of the year, the three-day Vermont State Shoot.
Not surprisingly, the accounts of what happened are in dispute. Ryan wrote in an email that club members called the police when they saw him walking along the road headed toward the river. Ryan said he was careful to stay within the river, as allowed under the public trust doctrine, and didn't stray onto club property, which borders the river.
Dennis DeVaux, who sits on the club's board of directors, wrote that Ryan was seen walking the banks on the Montpelier Gun Club's side.
"Many witnesses to this event were present and visual evidence was obtained," DeVaux wrote to Seven Days. "The only reason why he was not arrested at the scene and taken into custody was because the officer arrived a few minutes too late to physically see Mr. Ryan on the club's side of the river."
Ryan's response to the whole thing: "What jerks."
DeVaux's takeaway was, "How much credibility does an individual have who knowingly and willingly violates Vermont statutes in this manner?"
Unfortunately, Berlin police couldn't confirm what happened. A dispatcher twice told Seven Days she couldn't discuss details, and passed us along to the chief, who did not return messages.
A prolific letter writer, Ryan emailed the EPA regional office in Boston about what he reportedly found in the river. Asked about his claims, the EPA's Denny Dart couldn't say whether EPA officers will re-inspect the club's property based on the new claims, but said generally that, "It is our practice to assess compliance with orders through inspection or other means."
Ryan says the lead shot he found in the Winooski was new, deposited there since the EPA-mandated shot curtain (pictured left) was installed. How does he know it's new lead shot and not old stuff that the club has yet to clean up? Ryan couldn't be reached to explain that, so we asked Dart, who suggested, "Lead shot oxidizes, so it may be possible to tell the difference between old and new shot by the color and sheen."
Photo of Bruce Ryan by Matthew Thorsen
Photo of Montpelier Gun Club shot curtain courtesy of Bruce Ryan