Griswold First Selectman Kevin Skulczyck came to Hartford Wednesday to implore state officials to immediately halt plans to put a state police gun range in his town.
Skulczyck held a press conference at the state capitol to “fight this project.” He said he wanted Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other state officials to “listen to the people of Griswold and stop this process.”
Griswold residents, back in June in a non-binding referendum, voted 437 against to 63 in favor of the gun range proposal.
“The proposed state police gun range has been a hot topic in the town of Griswold,” said Skulczyck, who is also the Republican candidate this fall for the 45th District seat in the House of Representatives.
“The proposed site has brought many people out into the forefront to voice their opinions. As first selectman, it has been my responsibility to hear them,” continued Skulczyck.
Skulczyck added that the proposed gun range has “violated the state’s own procedures for reviewing real estate acquisitions, leases, and subleases proposed by the Commissioner of Administrative Services.
“The whole purpose of this board is to avoid duplication and waste of taxpayer money,” Skulczyck said.
The state Department of Administrative Services wants to buy a 113-acre parcel of privately-owned forest and farmland on Lee Road as a site for a new State Police training facility.
Opposition from Griswold residents to the plan has been loud and ongoing, with opponents citing concerns ranging from noise and lead pollution to road maintenance costs and disruption of wildlife habitats in the nearby Pachaug State Forest.
Skulczyck, who said he will serve as both first selectman and state legislator if he wins election this November, stressed that he is “supportive” of the state police.
“I want to be very clear that I support the Connecticut State Police and the need for training,” said Skulczyck. “I believe that Congressman Joe Courtney has provided options for the East Haven facility to be utilized. This is common sense.
“It will save taxpayers millions of dollars,” continued Skulczyck. “I would rather provide the Connecticut State Police rank and file with funding for equipment needs such as long rifles and body armor.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that instead of building the new gun training facility, the state should consider using already existing locations, such as the National Guard firing range in East Haven and a dynamic shooting range in Simsbury.
Utilizing the East Haven facility more would make it less of a target for potential closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, Courtney said.
State officials have contended that the East Haven National Guard site would not meet the state police’s training needs because police are trained to react differently in a shooting than Army personnel.
But Courtney said Wednesday he finds that explanation “hard to understand.”
“Frankly, I think it is time that we bring in an outside consultant to study all the issues surrounding the gun range,” Courtney said. “Eight out of the nine towns that the gun range has been proposed in have been in the 2nd Congressional District.
“The state has struck out each and every time,” Courtney added.
A state website that addresses questions about the training facility suggests that using other sites isn’t a possibility.
The explanation on the site says: “The CT Army National Guard has two training facilities in Connecticut, the East Haven Rifle Range (EHRR) and the Stones Ranch facility in East Lyme. Neither of them is a suitable alternative.
It continues: “The Connecticut State Police evaluated both sites extensively before determining their unsuitability. There is no range at Stone’s Ranch and no land to build one. The East Haven Rifle Range was designed to meet the specifications of the National Guard, not the State Police. The differences are significant, and both agencies agree that it cannot be modified to meet the collective training requirements.”
Jeffrey R. Beckham, staff counsel and director of communications for the Department of Administrative Services, said state officials have held “numerous and lengthy” hearings in Griswold on the gun range proposal.
“We are compelled to address any concerns raised during the application process,” Beckham said. “We certainly have and will continue to do so to ensure that all the issues raised by the residents of Griswold are addressed.”
Beckham said the state is currently “in confidential negotiations with a property owner” about a possible location for the gun range in Griswold. Because of those confidential negotiations, Beckham added, he wasn’t at liberty to discuss the gun range proposal further.
Skulczyck, who is being opposed by Democrat Tracey Hanson for the 45th District State House seat this November, said he is asking state officials to “go back to the drawing board.”
“We are asking the state to listen to the objections of the residents of Griswold,” said the first selectman. “Listen to our constituents’ concerns about the environment, concerns about their property values, concerns about the wasting of money at a time when the state has no money left to waste.
“We are here today to deliver our objection in as strong a language as we possibly can,” Skulczyck said.
When asked if the town would go to court to prevent the gun training facility from locating in Griswold, Skulczyck answered: “I wouldn’t rule that out.”