Judge tells Vt. gun range owner: Obey court orders or face jail

File photo - A shooter fires a handgun at Slate Ridge in n West Pawlet on April 17, 2021.
File photo - A shooter fires a handgun at Slate Ridge in n West Pawlet on April 17, 2021.(Wilson Ring | AP)
Published: Apr. 18, 2022 at 4:06 PM EDT
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UNDATED (AP) - The owner of an unpermitted firing range is facing jail time if he won’t allow officials from the town of Pawlet to visit the property within 30 days, a Vermont judge said Monday.

The town has been working for years to get Daniel Banyai to comply with its zoning regulations and later orders from the state Environmental Court.

During the remote hearing, Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin also told Banyai that he must sign a contract within 10 days with a surveyor to complete an assessment of the 30-acre property in West Pawlet to determine what is located there.

“I will caution Mr. Banyai that if you do not abide by this interim order in any respect I will then immediately ... consider any request made by the town of Pawlet to have you jailed until you comply,” Durkin said.

During the three-hour hearing, Banyai’s lawyer Robert Kaplan said he only began representing Banyai last month, but he would work with town officials and his client to find an acceptable date for a site visit.

Banyai bought the 30-acre property known as Slate Ridge in 2013 and sometime in 2017 he began operating what he calls a firearms training facility. The property is only permitted to have a garage with an apartment.

Slate Ridge neighbors have complained for some time about gunfire at the facility and what they claimed were threats and intimidation by Banyai and his supporters. Many of the neighbors of Slate Ridge are afraid to talk publicly because of fears for their safety.

In March 2021, Durkin ordered Banyai to end any firearms training activities at the center and that he remove any unpermitted structures. Banyai appealed that decision to the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the town earlier this year.

That 2021 order included the need for a site visit so officials can learn what is on the property, and it imposed a fine. Earlier this month Banyai paid a nearly $53,000 fine. A site visit had been scheduled for last week, but was canceled at the last minute because Banyai was hospitalized, officials said in court.

“I am very concerned about the evidence we’ve received thus far, particularly in relation to Mr. Banyai’s conscious decision to not abide by a judgment order that is now over a year old and was affirmed by the Vermont Supreme Court three-plus months ago,” Durkin said.

Banyai testified during the hearing that he’d hired a surveyor and made plans to remove a 500-square-foot building that has been used as a schoolhouse by putting it on a trailer and taking it away. He did not say where he would take it.

Earlier this year, Banyai hired a surveyor, but the survey did not have the time he needed to provide the detailed maps requested by the court.

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