By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
Vermont law enforcement has begun to check all hotels, motels, lodges and inns to ensure they are complying with Gov. Phil Scott’s Executive Order closing non-essential businesses.
The Vermont State Police asked other law enforcement agencies over the weekend to help review various lodging businesses to make sure they were not operating outside the Executive Order.
The directive sent by Col. Matthew Birmingham on behalf of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling on Saturday morning asked officers only to check if the businesses were operating, but not to conduct any enforcement of the Executive Order.
Grand Isle County Sheriff Ray Allen said his office was asked by Vermont State Police to check the businesses in the five island towns on Saturday. Allen said none in Grand Isle County were found to be out of compliance – and most are shut down because of the off-season.
Joanne Batchelder, an owner at Holiday Harbor Lodge on Lake Champlain in North Hero said they close down each year when the ice goes out and resumes each May. She said it is considered the off-season.
The North Hero House had said earlier that it was shutting down due to the COVID-19 scare. They plan to reopen when they get "all clear" sign.
Colchester Police Chief Doug Allen declined to say what his officers found when they went to the various hotels in town. “It was information asked for by the state and was provided to the state.” Allen said he would not elaborate.
Word of the unannounced statewide police sweep at more than 300 businesses throughout the 14 counties surfaced after the owners of the Tucker Hill Inn in Waitsfield posted on its Facebook Page on Saturday afternoon about a visit by Vermont State Police.
The inn owners reported the state trooper claimed he was there to investigate the possibility of turning the lodge into a temporary hospital and wanted to know how many rooms they had on-site, according to the Valley Reporter in Waitsfield, which broke the story.
The Tucker Hill Inn owners, after posting what the trooper reportedly had shared, indicated the law enforcement officer later called business to confess “he wasn’t completely honest” about what he stated earlier during his visit, the local weekly newspaper reported on its website Sunday.
That news story eventually caused the Vermont State Police to issue a press release about noon Sunday trying to clear the air.
The news release did not identify the state trooper and if and how the officer went off any script intended for use during the inspection.
State troopers, municipal police, and county sheriffs completed 295 checks, department spokesman Adam Silverman said in the news release. He said 20 sites remain to be checked.
It was unclear how many sites were in compliance or how many were violating the order, Silverman said. Those numbers were still being compiled Sunday from the various police agencies across the state, he said.
Silverman said the information might be available as early as Monday and will be used to consider any additional steps needed to help meet the goals of the Governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order.
Scott, who has been hosting regular media briefings in recent weeks on COVID-19, is expected to have another on Monday.
It also was unclear where the master list of hotels, motels, and inns to be checked was compiled: if names were based on places that pay the state rooms and meals tax, or if the sites were known by the Vermont Health Department or some other licensing function from the state.
The Birmingham memo had a spreadsheet attachment with the names of places for police checks.
Also unclear is whether any Airbnbs – rooms or homes that often get rented out over the Internet – were visited by police.
Silverman noted in the news release the executive order requires lodging sites to be closed except under limited circumstances, including:
The purpose of the visits was to evaluate compliance, he said.
Allen said the checks in Grand Isle County were easy because it is between season.
“I am very proud of the residents of Grand Isle County. Any time there is any natural disaster or emergency crisis the county comes together and does its part,” Allen said.
The Grand Isle Sheriffs, which are the primary police force for the five towns, has seen a reduction in complaints and in traffic, Allen said. He said it appears people are leaving their homes only to get essentials as allowed under the Governor’s order.
“Their cooperation is greatly appreciation,” Allen said.