Candidates show bipartisan opposition to Griswold gun range proposal, save for Ganim

Griswold — The leader of a group opposed to a proposal for a state police gun range in Griswold knows why gubernatorial candidates from both sides of the aisle suddenly have decided to take her side.

"I know it's because they're running, I'm not stupid," Pam Patalano said Tuesday.

But the members of Save Pachaug Forest and others against the state's multiyear effort to buy a piece of farmland in Griswold and relocate the state police training facility there aren't turning away the men in suits who have started making visits to the rural part of eastern Connecticut. And they've been rejoicing in the candidates' responses: all five of the Republicans and one of the Democrats on the Aug. 14 primary ballots have said they oppose locating the gun range in Griswold and say if elected, they would evaluate other spots.

Patalano said their opposition is encouraging in the face of what she said has been a rushed and confusing push to find a new place for state police troopers to train and practice using their weapons, which they now do at a complex in Simsbury that state police say has declined into "deplorable" conditions due to flooding of the Farmington River.

"It's not important that we get this done today, and I think the candidates realize that," she said.

At an event Tuesday at Buttonwood Farm — the sunflower farm and ice cream stand run by relatives of the proposed gun range site's current owner — three of the Republicans running primary campaigns for governor and a host of other candidates made their stances clear: 'No' to the gun range in Griswold. Flanked by the first selectmen of Griswold and neighboring Voluntown, as well as state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, and candidates for local and statewide office, Mark Boughton, Tim Herbst and David Stemerman all said if elected, they would stop the Griswold proposal and ask state officials to consider other options.

They joined Democratic candidate Ned Lamont, who said at a campaign event last month that he opposes building the new facility on the Griswold property, more than 100 acres off Lee Road, a pocket of private farmland almost completely surrounded by the state forest.

Two other Republican candidates on the ballot, Steve Obsitnik and Bob Stefanowski, did not attend Tuesday's event but both said in statements to The Day that they oppose placing the facility on the Griswold site.

The only candidate to stay out of the chorus of gubernatorial candidates against the Griswold site is Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who is running against Lamont in the Democratic primary.

A spokesman for Ganim's campaign said Tuesday that the mayor believes the property's owner should be allowed to sell his land to the state.

"This should not be a political issue, and in fact it should just be between the landowner and the State Police," Ted Lorson, the spokesman, said in an email. "Many potential sites have been evaluated and the State Police have chosen this one as a suitable location. Anyone who supports law enforcement wants our police to be able to protect us from whatever threats face our communities."

Ganim's campaign confused the issue when, as the Hartford Courant reported last month, it suggested in campaign material that the Buttonwood Farm owners, Kim and Duane Button, own the Lee Road farm instead of the true owner, Duane's cousin Lewis Button III. Duane Button told the Courant that protesters began picketing against the gun range at his ice cream stand after the mistake.

Officials at the state Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection have considered — and rejected — proposals to use Department of Correction gun ranges, an indoor range at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, and National Guard facilities in East Haven and East Lyme because they are either too small or would present scheduling conflicts.

The candidates at the Buttonwood Farm event said they opposed the Griswold plan because of the public opposition and because the site is too far from state police headquarters to be practical.

"I think our state troopers need a place to train, and I would work with them to site an appropriate location," said Boughton, who won the state Republican Party's endorsement at its May convention. But he said he would rather see the state work with the National Guard to improve or alter their East Haven facility before buying the Griswold site.

Some, including Herbst, said they would support asking the state police to conduct firearms training and practice at the state police academy in Meriden.

After groups of residents in Willington and East Windsor nixed proposals for the range in those towns, the state moved its proposal to Griswold, where residents quickly made clear they wanted no part of the potential noise and environmental hazards of such a facility.

For nearly three years they have been leading hikes, handing out brochures and soliciting signatures for petitions, warning their neighbors that the gun range could mean the sound of gunfire blasting through nearby Pachaug State Forest. 

The state proposal is now the subject of an environmental impact evaluation expected to be finished between January and April 2019.


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