Jim Kenyon: Musings on second-homeowner check-ins, license plate counting and Trump wine

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 5/5/2020 9:02:49 PM
Modified: 5/5/2020 9:03:11 PM

Perhaps there’s never been a better time than a worldwide pandemic to engage in a bit of chin-stroking and navel-gazing. (At least until Gov. Phil Scott allows golf courses to open in Vermont.)

In that vein, here are a few things about the government’s response and our new socially distant way of life that give me pause:

The town of Hartford wants seasonal residents (that means you, Quechee Lakes’ second-homeowners) to check in upon arrival.

Town Manager Brannon Godfrey, who signed the letter that went out to non-resident homeowners on April 24, told Valley News staff writer Tim Camerato last week that compliance was voluntary.

“It’s not for enforcement,” Godfrey said. “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.”

I guess that’s meant to be reassuring. The town won’t be tracking New Yorkers who try to sneak off to the Quechee polo field before their 14-day self-quarantine is up, after all.

Still, asking non-resident homeowners to supply their name, address and phone number “so that we can be aware of your presence in the community” seems at odds with the spirit of the town’s recently adopted “welcoming” ordinance.

What if the town asked undocumented immigrants for their contact information, when they arrived in Hartford and from where?

No doubt the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented, but collecting this type of personal information without strict controls on its use and how it’s kept sets a dangerous precedent.

Hartford’s second-homeowners pay property taxes and participate in our communities when they’re here — including spending money — so anything that smacks of singling them out is neither wise nor fair.

Vermont’s obsession with counting license plates at border crossings is on the wane. You just wouldn’t know it by driving around the Upper Valley.

On Tuesday, I came across Agency of Transportation workers at the Ledyard Bridge in Norwich and the Interstate 89 bridge in White River Junction.

VTrans, as the agency is known, began stationing workers around the clock at 45 border crossings statewide on April 1. This week, VTrans is down to monitoring 27 crossings for 16 hours a day, said Stephanie Brackin, spokeswoman for the state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center.

According to the governor, the data collection can help determine the effectiveness of measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

From the beginning, the Scott administration has maintained the mission, as state officials call it, doesn’t involve recording individual license plates — just the state the vehicle is registered in.

The data shows that a total of 779,219 out-of-state plates and 802,023 Vermont plates were counted at borders, The Associated Press reported last week.

I’m more interested in another figure: How much will the operation cost taxpayers?

As I wrote last month, the state spent $255,622 on “staffing, supervising, organizing and data reporting” between April 1-14.

On Monday, I asked for an updated cost, but Brackin didn’t have one. The data collection is being conducted by state highway workers who are “not able to telework and so are doing this work at a time when other regular work duties are not possible,” she said.

In other words, it’s busy work.

After passing VTrans workers equipped with pens and clipboards at the Interstate 89 bridge on Monday, I encountered a New Hampshire Department of Transportation dump truck carrying a load of dirt on Route 12A in West Lebanon.

Nearby, a work crew was building a long-overdue sidewalk along Route 12A. On I-89 in Lebanon, another crew was rebuilding a bridge.

Private contractors seem to be doing much of the work on the highway projects, but it shows a glaring contrast in how the Twin States are allocating taxpayer-funded resources during the pandemic.

The New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet in West Lebanon has received a shipment of — brace yourselves, Democrats and progressives — wines bearing the Trump family label.

The Trump Winery’s 2016 Chardonnay ($15) and two other “varietals” (that’s a New Hampshire Liquor Commission spokesman’s word, not mine) should be on the store’s shelves later this week.

The Trump Winery is “nestled in the foothills of Blue Ridge Mountains” in Virginia, according to the company’s website. Eric Trump, the president’s younger son, is company president.

After receiving good reviews from its wine buyers, the Liquor Commission purchased 84 cases of Trump Winery offerings to sell at select outlets, including West Lebanon, said E.J. Powers, the commission’s marketing consultant.

Apparently, the commission’s wine buyers didn’t put much stock in a 2017 Vanity Fair story that described the 2015 Trump Meritage ($23) as “Welch’s grape jelly with alcohol.”

But from a marketing standpoint, it could be a winner. In 2016, Donald Trump received 345,790 votes in New Hampshire.

I asked Dan King, who works at Norwich Wine and Spirits and knows his wine, if the Trump brand would be making its way across the Connecticut River.

“I think we might have boycotts if we started selling Trump wine,” King told me.

What does wine have to do with the coronavirus?

A lot. The way I look at it, this could be New Hampshire’s best shot at currying favor with the president: We’ll peddle your wine, if you send us more nasal swabs.

Quid pro quo at its finest. And I hear it goes well with grape jelly.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.

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