In a split vote, the Waitsfield Select Board voted 3-2 to adopt an official state declaration of emergency.

The board took that action at its March 23 meeting at which Mad River Valley Emergency Response Team director Fred Messer and his wife, Carla, who is the planning director for Mad River Valley Emergency Management, were present by phone along with other members of the public and board members.

The board voted 4-1 against adopting a declaration of emergency at last week’s March 16 meeting after Fred Messer suggested it. At that meeting he said that getting out ahead of such a declaration could put the town in a better position in terms of state supplies and response.

Waitsfield Select Board Chair Paul Hartshorn, left, and town administrator Trevor Lashua listen to board members on conference call meeting. Photo courtesy MRVTV
Waitsfield Select Board Chair Paul Hartshorn, left, and town administrator Trevor Lashua listen to board members on conference call meeting. Photo courtesy MRVTV

PUBLIC ALARM

At the time, the board didn’t want to elicit public alarm. This week board member Darryl Forrest asked Messer if any other towns beyond Burlington and Colchester had issued emergency declarations. Board member Brian Shupe said Rutland City had done so.

“Last week, when the board voted down the request I was perfectly fine with that. I understood your reasoning. The culture I come from, you salute smartly, about face and leave after a decision. However, this last week I’ve been inundated with people calling and emailing, asking for me to ask for that declaration again. I will not. But there are many people who are anxious for that,” Messer told the board.

“I don’t see why we don’t do this. We were concerned about scaring people, but if people aren’t scared now, I don’t know when they will be,” Forrest said.

 

DEFER TO FRED

“I was wondering if it would be more powerful if we had first responders or road crew members down. But I’ll defer to Fred,” said board member Brian Shupe.

Board member Kellee Mazer said she’d spoken to Carla Messer and was advised to move forward on the declaration.

“She advised us to move forward based on what’s coming down the pike and what’s going to happen. There are supplies that are being staged and protective supplies that people will need,” Mazer said.

Board member Jon Jamieson said other select boards in The Valley don’t see the reasoning behind it.

NOT IN FAVOR

“I spoke with the chairs of the Warren and Fayston Select Boards this afternoon and they both expressed less than enthusiastic support for this. My fear is that currently, we have all these guys on our team and if we did something like this, I’m not sure they’d be staying on the team,” Jamieson said.

“They don’t see the connection between the need or benefits at this point,” he said, in response to a question from Shupe about their reluctance.

Carla Messer said that the Waitsfield fire chief is concerned that firefighters could be put in a position to respond to a situation where someone has been exposed to the virus.

Board chair and former Waitsfield fire chief Paul Hartshorn said, “We’re putting on our full gear when we go into any situation and that gear is being washed immediately afterward. All we need are a couple of extra sets of gear to be washed.”

ORDERING A BUSINESS TO CLOSE

“I have a concern about several businesses that may or may not shut down with today’s health order. They are a concern for a cluster of cases. With this declaration, the town’s health officer could shut them down,” Carla Messer said.

“Are you saying you’re going to order a business closed that the governor’s order doesn’t cover?” asked Jamieson.

“This is a situation where disease could be spread and I’m not sure they’re cognizant and that they don’t recognize the potential for spreading,” Carla Messer responded.

 

PREMATURE

Hartshorn told the board he felt the emergency declaration was a bit premature and Carla Messer told him that Waitsfield has had disaster declarations before under lesser conditions.

Jamieson asked that if as health officer Fred Messer took it upon himself to shut down a business, would he need to consult with the select board before doing so.

“It would be a courtesy. His authority comes from the health department. Any appeal of his decision would go to the select board,” Carla Messer said.

Forrest made a motion to pass the emergency declaration which passed with yes votes from Shupe, Mazer and Forrest. Hartshorn and Jamieson voted no.

The Fayston Select Board met the next night, March 24, to hear from the town’s emergency management coordinator and health officer, Craig Snell. The board heard an update from Snell on shared efforts with Warren, Moretown and Waitsfield on establishing a structure for the Mad River Valley Emergency Response Team. There was no discussion of a declaration of emergency.

“By completing the Local Jurisdiction Request for Emergency Declaration in addition to enacting the Local Emergency Management Plan, the town of Waitsfield is poised and ready to request resources from the state such as medical supplies, food supplies and more if resources are depleted in the community.  During the COVID-19 response, taking these steps, even if they are not used or needed, assures the community that they are fully cared for,” wrote the Mad River Emergency Response Team, via press release after both boards met.

Fayston and Waitsfield have established bridge lines for the public to conference call into public hearings. The numbers to call for Waitsfield are 802-434-6250 and 802-545-6250. The participation code is 570208#.

The number for Fayston is 802-434-6250. The participation number is 085518#.

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