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Hartford sends letters asking second-home owners to check-in on arrival

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/1/2020 9:23:06 PM
Modified: 5/1/2020 9:38:03 PM

HARTFORD — The early return of some seasonal residents prompted Hartford this week to send letters requesting that second homeowners notify the town of their arrival and self-isolate for 14 days.

The letter, sent to non-resident homeowners, informs people of Gov. Phil Scott’s stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 outbreak and asks that they wear masks and maintain social distancing while out and about.

In addition to telling people who have arrived from out-of-state to quarantine for two weeks, it also calls on “out-of-state homeowners” to send their name, address and phone number to a town-owned email address “so that we can be aware of your presence in the community.”

West Lebanon travel agent Scott Milne said he read the request with skepticism. Milne, a Pomfret Republican who narrowly lost a run for governor in 2014, owns three properties in Hartford and received the letter this week.

“In spite of the good information, Vermont governments are now sending official letters asking — perhaps telling — folks of a certain class — in this case, non-resident property-owning visitors — to register with the government,” he said in an email on Friday.

Milne went on to call the registration request part of a “slippery slope,” adding “there is no herd immunity offered to citizens of an overreaching government — in fact, more the opposite,” he said.

However, Hartford Town Manager Brannon Godfrey said the letter’s intention is innocent. Replies will be used solely for statistics so that Hartford’s health officer has an idea of how many people are arriving from out of state, he said in a phone interview.

“It’s not for enforcement. It’s really so that we just have an idea how many and where the movement of people into town from out of state is happening,” Godfrey said. He added that responses are voluntary.

While people “should not write off tools” that municipalities use to combat the coronavirus pandemic, there are several principles governments should adhere to, according to Lisa Ernst, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.

Those include avoiding methods that punish or stigmatize certain groups of people or coercing people into complying with some information-gathering measures.

“If it is mandatory or there is a penalty for not complying, we would be concerned with the approach,” Ernst said in an email. “We are not aware of other communities taking this approach at this time.”

Hartford’s letter comes as communities across New England with high numbers of second homes are seeing non-residents return earlier, along with fears they may be bringing the virus with them.

New Hampshire’s lakes are seeing an early start to the boating season, with marinas and the state’s Marine Patrol reporting higher than normal spring traffic.

Officials in Newbury, N.H. — which is home to portions of Lake Sunapee and Mount Sunapee State Park — have seen an “abnormal” number of second homeowners return, according to Police Chef Bradley Wheeler.

“We’ve been seeing our local mari nas getting boats out of storage and ready for the s eason for people,” he said via phone on Friday. “We don’t generally see the influx of second homes being used until after school’s out.”

Newbury hasn’t sent a letter asking people to self-isolate, but is making the message clear on social media and the town’s website, Wheeler added.

However, some second homeowners who have returned to the Upper Valley said they did so not to get a jump on vacation, but out of an abundance of caution.

Frank Gerardi and his wife Marion left Jupiter, Fla., in mid-March to return to their second home in Quechee because of concerns that past respiratory problems could put Marion at risk of danger if she contracted the virus.

“We just felt that it’s much safer up here,” Frank Gerardi said in a phone interview, adding that Vermont is more rural and close to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center should something go wrong.

The Gerardis quarantined for two weeks, as did their daughter and her family, who rented a separate property before moving into the family’s home. Now, they’re mostly content gardening and sticking to curbside and takeout services for essential needs, Frank Gerardi said.

“We’ve taken all the precautions that we can,” he said.

Paul Gustafson and his two teenage daughters also returned to their Quechee home in mid-March. They live in Madison, Conn., and left behind Gustafson’s wife, a nurse practitioner.

“We decided to separate for a time until we could assess the risk for me, for the kids, for her,” he said.

Gustafson, an English teacher, said the family mainly focuses on classes during the day, with a regular routine of three-to-four-mile walks and some TV watching at night.

“At our house in Quechee here we have like a little one-room schoolhouse going,” he said. “I’m upstairs in the office running my English classes and my daughters are in different bedrooms taking their classes.”

“We started self-quarantine before Vermont even issued the stay-at-home order,” Gustafson added. “By the time that thing came out, we had already been in quarantine for about two weeks.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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