Ill-timed police gun range move would be no boon to region

April 18, 2016

The state’s intent to build a new firearm training facility — and its apparent inclination toward Eastern Connecticut sites for the purpose — have caused quite a stir in local communities over the past several weeks.

While their objections are surely colored by a strong dose of NIMBYism, local residents are right to be concerned and to question all aspects of the proposal, from potential noise and environmental impacts to traffic volume to the dubious expectation of significant state revenue in lieu of tax dollars.

Considering the issue on a less parochial level, we also question whether now is the time for Connecticut to be investing in such a significant building project. The state is in the throes of the worst budget crisis in recent memory, with everything from large-scale state worker layoffs to school funding cuts on the table as legislators and the governor bandy solutions.

The existing facility in Simsbury is, by most accounts, outdated, and it has experienced flooding and worsening erosion. And a new facility would incorporate modern needs, such as facilities that simulate office or commercial settings, the Department of Administrative Services has said.
We fully support the state police and would be glad to see them reap the benefits of a state-of-the-art training grounds. But now is simply not the time to make a significant outlay on a nonessential project — more of a “want” than a “need,” in our view. (If the Simsbury facility were to be on the brink of being entirely unusable, we would judge the proposal differently.)

State Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, has publicly opposed the project on the grounds of cost, saying the state should avoid the estimated $11 million cost and instead look at sharing an East Haven facility with the National Guard, calling new construction a “very poor idea.”

Many residents agree, albeit more for reasons aligned with their own interests as property owners. Large groups of residents in Voluntown and Willington have organized to fight the project; folks in the latter town got their wish last week when DAS and the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection announced Willington and East Windsor had been removed from consideration.

Voluntown, Canterbury, Griswold, Sprague and Hampton remain on the state’s list.

Judging by The Bulletin’s reporting on hearings, and by letters to the editor and online comments — an admittedly small sample of public opinion — it seems that Canterbury joins Voluntown in its opposition to hosting the firearms training facility, while Sprague residents have mixed feelings and Griswold seems to be leaning toward measured support.

According to a release from the lieutenant governor’s office, Willington and East Windsor were axed from the running because “legislators and local officials asked that alternatives be considered.”

That suggests that in this case, town officials and lawmakers can induce the state to act one way or the other in response to their communities’ reactions — even though the communities themselves lack official oversight because the land in question is privately owned right now.

Thus will residents in their respective towns need to continue being vocal and persistent in their efforts as the selection process continues. We were heartened to see leaders use their influence to reflect their communities’ wishes in Willington and East Windsor.

We hope to see local leaders do the same, even if that means conducting more hearings or adjusting their personal positions. In Voluntown, at least, there appears to be a disconnect between tenacious opponents and First Selectman Rob Sirpenski’s markedly pro-range stance.

He’s right that “the loudest voice in the room is not necessarily the opinion of the whole town.” But we encourage both sides to keep an open mind and be open to adjusting their opinions as more information becomes available and more public discourse occurs.

In the meantime, we recognize the state’s need but view the project as neither a boon to our region nor a well-timed move considering the state’s ongoing fiscal catastrophe.

That’s our opinion. What’s yours? Email [email protected]