Though officials from Willington and East Windsor are trying to gun down a proposed state police firing range that might be built in one of their towns, municipal leaders elsewhere are trying to snag the proposed $7 million project.
Melody Currey, commissioner of the state Department of Administrative Services, said Tuesday she’s been approached by elected officials who are eager to bring the project to their towns.
“We are looking at other sites around the state of Connecticut,” she said during a public information hearing held by the Public Safety and Security Committee. She did not name them.
Given the strident opposition from the residents who live near two sites the state is known to be eyeing, it is “painfully obvious that these communities are not interested in these firing ranges,” said Sen. Timothy Larson, D-East Hartford, co-chairman of the public safety panel.
“This is a classic case of ‘Not In My Backyard,’” said Rep. David Kiner, an Enfield Democrat whose district includes East Windsor. He said that if the state wants to be a good neighbor, it has to look elsewhere.
“There are places that do want this facility,” Kiner said.
Currey said that while other locales are investigated, “the process has to continue” for the two already targeted as possibilities to replace the outdated, flood-prone state police firing range at the base of Talcott Mountain in Simsbury.
Lt. Marc Petruzzi, commanding office of Troop H in Hartford, said the existing range, in use beside the Farmington River since 1947, isn’t “sustainable and resilient” enough to provide the training that officers need in an era of changing threats.
He said the state police want to relocate to a place where they can have a training building and four ranges, for pistols, shotguns, rifles and long-range rifles used by tactical units. All told, there are about 1,100 troopers who need training annually to maintain their certification, Petruzzi said.
After a lengthy search for potential sites that ruled out more than a half dozen existing government firing ranges in Connecticut, the state chose two for a more thorough review, both of them offered by property owners willing to sell.
One is a 327-acre location off Ruby Road and the other is a 223-acre parcel in East Windsor that’s been heavily mined for sand. Residents in both areas have expressed their opposition and town leaders have taken a stand against the concept as well.
Republican state Sen. Tony Guglielmo, whose district also includes Willington, said that having police racing around on the site in heavy vehicles and firing their weapons would undermine the village character that attracts people to the towns.
A number of legislators questioned whether there are cheaper alternatives that would suffice, including perhaps sharing a 138-acre firing range built in 2011 for the Connecticut National Guard in East Haven.
Major General Thaddeus J. Martin, the adjutant general for the state’s National Guard, called it a “state-of-the-art facility” that is available for outside use about 240 days annually, 100 of them between May and September and the rest in colder months.
He said the federal government requires an $885-a-day fee for the facility’s use to cover costs. If the state used it every available day, it would cost about $212,000 annually – not a lot more than $172,000-a-year the state pays Simsbury for the existing range.
Jeff Bolton, the supervising environmental analyst for Currey’s department, said that the military range is unsuitable. Currey said the necessity of sharing would also create “a scheduling nightmare” for the police.
But U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, urged state leaders in a letter to try to work out an arrangement that would allow the sharing of the East Haven range. He said it would help demonstrate that Connecticut public safety personnel work hand-in-hand with the military, a key point if it ever has to fight off another round of base closing.
Rep. Sam Belsito, a Tolland Republican whose district includes Willington, said it doesn’t make sense to him to press ahead with a new multi-million dollar range when the state already has at least seven others scattered around.
“We’re in financial debt. We’re over our head,” Belsito said, and it would be best for agencies to work together to provide the training necessary while saving money for taxpayers.
Bolton said the next step in the process is for the state to do environmental impact evaluations on the sites in Willington and East Windsor – which can be a lengthy process. He said they may cost $700,000.
Guglielmo and town officials in Willington said state bureaucrats also need to obey a 2005 statute that requires them to work closely with the towns before siting a state project in either place that doesn’t fit in with existing local planning. He expressed dismay that it hasn’t already happened.
Given that the state knows “there’s going to be litigation” if they press ahead with either Willington or East Windsor, Guglielmo said that alternatives ought to be explored.