Somers Testifies Against Police Firing Range in Griswold

February 17, 2017

By Mary Biekert [email protected] 860-425-4256
HARTFORD – Residents from Griswold and Voluntown testified in Hartford Thursday against building a state police firearms training facility in their town.

The testimony was part of a public hearing on a bill submitted by state Rep. Kevin Skulczyck, R-Griswold, and state Sen. Heather Somer, R-18th District, which calls for a state study to be conducted to determine if a new facility is needed.

The state has spent a year looking for private land in Eastern Connecticut to build a new facility to replace the long-time range in Simsbury. It has met with resistance in many towns. The search has been narrowed to acreage in Griswold.

The Public Safety and Security Committee held the public hearing. If the bill passes, it would require the state Department of Administrative Services, Emergency Services and Public Protection to study the feasibility of using existing firearms training facilities to meet state police firearm training needs.

Somers spoke at the hearing, claiming that something as large as a gun range should not be pushed on towns without the state first hearing residents’ voices and opinion.

She also said there are existing facilities in the state that could accommodate the gun range and she did not think it was financially responsible to build a new gun range given the state’s troubled fiscal status.

Griswold town attorney Mark Branse testified in support of the bill, saying he also supported the town of Willington in its fight against having the facility built there.

Branse claimed the state was not following its own laws by proposing the firing range.

“It is troubling that the state has put into effect laws that would ensure that states could put in facilities such as these without first making sure that a facility would be allowed to be located in these towns,” Branse said.

Branse said the proposed facility needs approval from the State Facility Review Boards, a watchdog agency to avoid corruption and ensure responsible spending.

He said Melody Currey, the commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services, has brushed off these concerns in a letter to Branse.

Skulczyck, who is also first selectman in Griswold, said the state should start over with the project and follow state statutes.

State Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford Springs, co-chairman to the Public Safety and Security Committee, said he agreed with the proposed bill. He also said he didn’t think it was fiscally responsible of the state to be spending money on a new facility, which the state estimates would cost $7 million.

Nine residents from Griswold and three from Voluntown planned to speak at Thursday, but the hearing was pushed back until late afternoon and they had to leave. They submitted written statements instead.

Before she left Voluntown Selectman Amy Labossiere told The Bulletin she was concerned that the facility would drive down property values.

“We already function on a bare budget,” she said. “Our budget is funded primarily through property taxes… A gun range such as this would be terrible for our town based on fiscal matters alone.”

In his written statement, Bob Panko said he thinks the state should look for a vacant big box store in the middle of the state for the facility.

“Gut the inside. Install sprinkler systems and fans to create rain and wind. Build distance ranges for long arms practice. Build another tactical range that allows officers to drive within the building,” Panko said.

Griswold residents Sheryl and Victor Jenschke were concerned about noise.

“We are the ones that live less than one mile away from the proposed site on Lee Road,” Victor Jenschke said. What will that mean when our grandchildren who come to visit us on the weekends?” Victor Jenschke said.

LaBossiere also pointed out that U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, suggested using an existing facility, the East Haven National Guard building, for the firing range.