Locals worry about nonresident influx

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DOVER — Concern over nonresidents heading to the hills of Vermont during the coronavirus pandemic are not going ignored.

"Ski area legislators are continually communicating with each other and Governor Scott's team about the increased population," Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Windham-Bennington, wrote in an email to constituents.

In the email, Sibilia said there are a lot of people from out of state in the Deerfield Valley. She noted that the borders of the state remain open and only the president can close them.

Chris Darling of Walpole, N.H. said he was driving to the Brattleboro Food Co-op on Saturday and looked at licenses plates of cars heading north on Interstate 91.

"Easily one in five was from New York or Connecticut," he told the Reformer in an email. "On my way back, I had a Connecticut car in front of me and a New York one behind me."

Sibilia advised against assuming the purpose behind every out-of-state license plate seen around the community.

"We have traveling nurses and doctors, FEMA, military and other workers associated with recovery who have traveled here," she wrote.

Her recommendation to owners of second homes in the region is: "Think very carefully before coming to Vermont at this time."

"We do not have excess healthcare capacity if you get sick," she wrote. "We love you. Please do not come without supplies. Please behave as if you are infected with the virus. That means self isolating and social distancing. Please understand you are here living under the same Executive Orders that your scared friends the year round Vermonters are living under."

Sibilia asked those who come for a day trip to hike to "please be respectful of the high level of anxiety our year round residents are feeling about your travel here."

"We are worried you are not behaving as if you are a carrier of the virus, we are worried you are hoarding food from the small grocery stores and we are worried you will be requiring emergency healthcare services during your trip," she wrote.

Vermont has issued orders to close restaurants and bars and provide takeout only, and to limit the number of people gathering to 10. As of Tuesday, Sibilia said, there should be no new overnight guests in short-term rental units or hotels and motels, and anyone in such accommodations should not have their stay extended.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Windham-6, said he is most concerned about the short-term rentals continuing in the valley. He pointed to one local unit being advertised online with a post saying: "WE ARE HERE FOR YOU DURING THE C-19 SPREAD. RETREAT FROM THE CITY HERE!"

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"That is outrageous," he said in an email response to the Reformer. "Not only does this violate Vermont's Stay Home Order, but it violates similar orders in other states. And it risks further spreading the coronavirus in our area."

Legislators representing ski towns have reached out to the governor's administration to try to eliminate such online ads but have not seen any action, Gannon said.

"We also have sought more guidance from the administration on enforcement of this order," he said. "Again, we have not had any clear response. While this is frustrating, I am proud of the local short-term rental companies that have done the right thing and stopped offering rentals."

Rebecca Kelley, communications director for the governor's office, told the Reformer soliciting a reservation is in violation of the order. She said additional steps on enforcement will be outlined during a press conference Monday.

The Vermont State Police said it visited about 295 hotels and motels with other law enforcement agencies Saturday to assess compliance with Gov. Phil Scott's executive order that required commercial lodging establishments to immediately stop operations due to the coronavirus pandemic. Such establishments can provide housing for vulnerable populations when arranged through the state, accommodations for health care workers or other workers deemed necessary to the COVID-19 response, and quarantine facilities when arranged by the state. Police estimated about 20 sites still needed to be contacted and checked for compliance.

At a recent press conference about the coronavirus, Scott said out-of-state visitors would be discouraged from coming to the Green Mountain State at this time.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, later told WCAX he knows Vermont businesses rely on out-of-state residents but guests have to be turned away right now.

"I'll try to make up the money to help these small businesses," he said.

Sibilia noted in her email that the Mount Snow ski resort in West Dover shut down March 14, two weeks before it would be required by the state. She said the next day, state legislators from every ski resort town began communicating with each other and the governor's staff about the potential for unexpected population levels due to second homeowners coming to shelter in Vermont.

Sibilia estimated that some towns have four vacation homes for every year-round home. That, she said, is "a large part of both why we need and how we pay for our police force, fire fighters and rescue."

The most popular non-winter activity in the Deerfield Valley is hiking, Sibilia wrote, describing the activity as legal and encouraged with proper social distancing.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.

Related coverage:

-- Dismay, sadness after Scott's order to close schools


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