Voluntown residents organize to keep state gun range facility out

April 11, 2016

VOLUNTOWN – Voluntown residents who oppose a state police firearms training facility being built in town are saying “no” in more ways than one.

Some residents have joined to form the organization Keep Voluntown Quiet in protest of the project, using a Facebook page and website to get their message out.

Bob Panko, one of the leaders of the group, said the goal is to educate residents who may not be aware of the project.

“I meet people every day who haven’t heard a thing about this project. There are some people who don’t read the paper and don’t pay attention to news in town,” Panko said.

The state is looking for land to construct a 55,000-square-foot multiple building training facility. The proposed facility would be used to train state troopers in firearms with simulators, and outdoor and indoor shooting ranges. It would include a qualifying pistol range, an active shooter training range and a range each for rifle and shotgun training .

State officials have held public meetings about the facility in a number of towns already and have received negative responses in multiple instances, including in Canterbury. Griswold residents have been more receptive to the idea.
The Voluntown group posts daily project-related commentary, news stories, updates on public meetings and links to online petitions.

They’ve also purchased signs that read, “No state range, keep Voluntown quiet.”

The group’s Facebook page, which currently has 163 members, is being used to encourage calls and emails to town and state representatives to pressure them to reject the project.

There is another public meeting scheduled for Monday night in Sprague.

Residents who oppose the facility cite noise, traffic and environmental pollution as concerns. However, even if residents are opposed to the project, the state does not need town or resident approval to purchase land or build the facility. The state police want to move from its existing 68-year-old training facility in Simsbury because it floods regularly.

Republican state Sen. Tony Guglielmo, 35th District, said people contact him daily about the project because he is supporting two bills in the legislature that would restrict the state’s ability to build the facility.
Guglielmo’s 35th District includes Ashford, Chaplin, Eastford, Hampton, Pomfret and Woodstock.

One bill would prevent the state from buying or leasing new land for the project and would force it to use land it already owns or leases. The second would require the parcel for the project to be more than 330 acres to provide a buffer between residential areas. Guglielmo also represents Willington, another town under consideration for the project.

Guglielmo, who is against the project, said for the most part residents are against the project and are calling him to support the two bills.

He sees the projected cost of the facility as a waste of money.

He said the state has quoted the project’s cost, including purchasing the land and constructing the building, at $11 million.

He argues it will cost twice that.

“This project should have been abandoned months ago. The state has no money. I don’t understand why they won’t walk away from this,” he said.

State Rep. Paul Brycki, who represents Griswold and Voluntown, said he also has received emails and calls from residents. Although he’s heard a few complaints from Voluntown residents, calls he’s getting from Griswold are mostly in support, he said.
“I’m getting a lot of nice emails from people who think it’s a good idea,” he said.

Brycki says he supports the project.
“We never get any projects in southeastern Connecticut. This is something that would help the town hosting the range,” he said.

He noted the town the facility is built in would receive Payment in Lieu of Taxes money from the state and there would be an added state trooper presence.

Voluntown First Selectman Bob Sirpenski said he has received about a dozen letters in the past three weeks, from as far away as California from people either planning to relocate to town or who used to live there. He maintains he’s spoken to a lot of residents who feel the project is a good idea, but fear criticism from those in opposition.
“The loudest voice in the room is not necessarily the opinion of the whole town,” he said.

The state presented the project to Hampton residents last week, and most at the meeting seemed against it. First Selectman Allan Cahill said residents circulated a petition before the meeting in opposition.

The state Department of Administrative Services is accepting written comment from residents until May 1.

Panko said he and other members of Keep Voluntown Quiet vow to continue to fight the project.

He said it is a real threat to Pachaug Forest, a “precious commodity,” he said.

“We’re being asked to accept something that, like in Simsbury’s case, will be around for the next 70 years. That will cause irreversible change to the forest and if it comes to town, it will never be the same,” Panko said.