HARTFORD, CT — It may be a new session of the General Assembly, but some of the issues are not new. The state is still looking to build a 55,000-square-foot police firearms training facility in Griswold.
The plan proposed by the Department of Administrative Services is up for a public hearing Tuesday, March 6. At that hearing will be a large contingent of the group Keep Griswold Quiet, which is adamantly opposed to the gun range being built in their town.
The state wants to buy a 113-acre parcel of privately owned forest and farm land on Lee Road for a new training facility.
Opposition from Griswold residents 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.
A few days before the Public Safety Committee’s hearing, the town of Griswold will be voting on an ordinance to ban the construction of any new gun ranges in town.
While that vote will have no bearing on the firearms training facility plan — since it is a state project — the message Griswold residents are sending to state officials can’t be ignored — at least that’s the hope of anti-gun range people.
In June 2016, Griswold residents voted 437-63 against the proposed gun range, though the state does not need local approval to purchase or build the facility.
“The state tends to look at us as a bunch of rednecks and yahoos,” Pam Patalano, a member of Keep Griswold Quiet, said Tuesday. “Well, we may not have a lot here but we have our forest and that’s a lot to lose.”
During debate on the gun range last year, 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.
When Courtney made his suggestion last year, East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. panned the idea.
“I will point out that the current (East Haven) range is located in the Farm River flood prone area,” Maturo said last year. “Certainly during periods of significant river flooding, the range is one of the first locations in that neighborhood to be found under water.”
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.
Patalano said its concerning to her group that their efforts to find out the state’s latest thinking on the project have fallen on deaf ears.
“We sent a cease and desist order to the state from our group on July 1st of 2016,” Patalano said. “Since that time — we’ve heard nothing.”
“What bothers us is when the state first started talking about placing a gun range in town they promised to be transparent and keep us updated,” Patalano said.
Jeffrey R. Beckham, staff counsel and director of communications for the Department of Administrative Services, said earlier this week “there is nothing new” on the proposal then what is already posted on the department’s website.
The 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.”
The state website also addresses the question of why a new site for the gun range is needed in the first place.
It states: “The range is situated at the base of Avon Mountain, well within a flood plain, and abutted by the Farmington River in Simsbury. Even when rainfall is moderate, as has been the case this year, the range floods. Repeated flooding and mold led to condemnation and demolition of our classroom building on the property.”
Additionally, the explanation goes on: “The Simsbury property, 12.5 acres, is too small to provide more of the training opportunities that troopers should have to keep pace with the threats that they increasingly face in the field, including eastern Connecticut, varying widely from accidental opioid overdoses and an influx in rural drug trafficking routes to domestic violence situations where the partner is at imminent risk of harm and active shooter scenarios.”
Proposals to build a new state police range in Willington and East Windsor haven’t officially been scrapped, but state officials turned their attention to far eastern Connecticut, including Griswold, in 2016 following public hearings.