BY ANDREAS YILMA
NAUGATUCK — High Rock Shooting Association, a 16-lane outdoor shooting range in the Naugatuck State Forest, had to close for about six weeks at the beginning of the year because its contract expired and the state was slow to respond.
Officials from the shooting range began attempting to contact Department of Energy and Environmental Protection officials at the end November 2022 as the agreement expired at the end of the year and a new one had not been put in place.
Shooting range officials received no response at the end of January which prompted them to reach out to State Rep. Seth Bronko, R-Naugatuck, for help.
High Rock Shooting Association President Ron Goodmaster said the 33-year old private shooting range club has hundreds of customers throughout the year and about 115 members.
“We made calls, we’ve sent emails, we sent texts and we got no response, absolutely no response,” Goodmaster said.
Goodmaster said on the first week of the year, he drove to the office of the shooting range’s point person out of DEEP one official informed Goodmaster that the paperwork is tied up in the upper levels of the state but the range should be getting an agreement.
“We waited on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis trying to be courteous and not push the state too much knowing it was holidays and everything else. We waited until the end of January and we had no response whatsoever from the state of Connecticut,” Goodmaster said. “All of our calls fell on deaf ears so we called Seth and we asked him to help us out.”
After several days of Bronko attempting to get through the state and being unsuccessful, he ramped up his efforts and DEEP responded to the shooting range officials on Feb. 10, saying they had to redo the agreement because it was apparently not in the appropriate format, Goodmaster said.
DEEP gave the shooting range a Special Use License that will be good for at least one year until the state can come up with new agreement.
“We don’t know what the future holds for us. Obviously it’s going to be a rewritten agreement. We don’t know if there’s going to be different operating parameters,” Goodmaster said.
“Right now we’ve been told to operate the same way we have been but we’re very leery about what may take place, in light of the fact that the state is not very friendly to gun owners.”
Goodmaster said DEEP had some worries on the prior agreement which include “concerns about the legal structure of the document and it’s suitability for the type use it was being applied to.”
DEEP Bureau Chief for Natural Resources Andrew Fisk said the agreement renewal took longer than it should have.
“We ideally could’ve had this done before the end of year,” Fisk said. “We didn’t. That’s on us.”
DEEP has a new legal team who looked at the existing agreement and realized it didn’t match what the association was doing.
The range’s prior agreement was like a concession agreement such as a restaurant selling a service. Instead the state is preparing a lease agreement that will be legally better and protect the interests of both parties, Fisk said.
DEEP has been restaffing and rebuilding their legal team when they realized the prior agreement didn’t match what the shooting range association was doing. The state is actively working on the new lease, Fisk said.