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Fines for failure to comply
Rutland Town to require masks in public indoor place

Those frequenting indoor public spaces in Rutland Town will have to wear a mask when they enter, per an ordinance passed Wednesday morning by the town Board of Health.

“The purpose of this rule is to require all individuals to wear face coverings while indoors at locations that are open to the public in order to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect the public health and safety of the town of Rutland,” reads the ordinance.

In Rutland Town, the Select Board serves as the Board of Health.

The vote went 4-1 with Selectman Don Chioffi being the “no” vote.

The board opted to include fines as part of the ordinance. A first offense is a $50 fine with a $25 waiver, second offense is a $75 fine with a $35 waiver, and a third offense is $100 with a $50 waiver.

The ordinance exempts children younger than 2 years of age, anyone with a disability who can’t wear a mask or wear one safely because of the disability, anyone for whom wearing a mask would, “create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the workplace risk assessment,” and anyone eating or drinking inside an establishment serving food or beverages.

On Monday, the Legislature convened for a special session to pass a law allowing towns to impose mask ordinances. Lawmakers and others had been pressuring Gov. Phil Scott on the matter for some time.

Town Health Officer and Selectman John Paul Faignant said under state law the board will have to revisit the ordinance every 45 days. However he would expect the board to do so every two weeks at its regular meetings, and after 30 days at most. The state law expires in April.

“I got into it a little bit last night but as we all know Rutland County is leading the count, our transmission rate is really high, but given the upcoming shopping holiday and following the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Vermont Department of Health recommendations I would recommend that we take advantage of the state authorizing us to enact a mask mandate indoors for public buildings only for the town,” said Faignant.

Selectman Joe Denardo said because the shopping holiday is so near he wondered how this would be communicated to the community.

Board member Sharon Russell advised that Faignant contact some of the larger stores. She offered to help.

“The people looking for this are the bigger box stores, like Hannaford, they want help with this issue,” said Faignant. “They have their own rules in place, but they’re really happy to have the town pass the ordinance.”

Denardo said while the stores may already have their own mask requirements, they should feel free to cite the town’s ordinance if they receive backlash from customers.

There was no debate between board members over whether or not to pass the ordinance, either at the Tuesday or Wednesday meetings. However Chioffi said in an interview Wednesday that he feels this is an example of government overreach. He doesn’t believe masking is effective, criticized the ordinance for not specifying what kind of mask is required and likened the debate over wearing masks to the debate over abortion rights.

According to VTDigger, Brattleboro was the first town in Vermont to adopt a masking ordinance under the new law.

Few townships in Rutland County appeared eager to follow suit. Rutland City leaders told the Herald on Tuesday they were either against it or would consider it. Some towns north of Rutland on Route 7 have mask requirements for town buildings but the members of their boards don’t wish to impose that on the entire town.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com


In Rutland City at the Vermont Farmers Food Center, Alyssa Dufresne and her pup receive a Thanksgiving meal distributed from Grace Davy, coordinator of the local ‘Everyone Eats’ program.

The giving season


Local
After one year, still no arrest in Rutland slaying

More than a year after a Holyoke, Massachusetts, man was murdered and found dead from a gunshot wound at the Quality Inn, the case is still under active investigation but no arrests have been made.

Jonathon Houghton, 35, of Holyoke, was found dead in a room at the Rutland hotel on Nov. 22, 2020. The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Burlington determined the cause of Houghton’s death was a gunshot wound to the torso and the manner of death was a homicide.

In April, Jonah Pandiani, 19, of Rutland, was also shot and killed at the Quality Inn. In that case, another teenager, Kahliq Richardson, 18, of Rutland, turned himself in and told police the shooting was accidental.

There have been no statements from police to suggest the two shootings were connected but officials from Rutland and Rutland Town have raised questions with state officials, who placed some homeless residents in the Quality during the pandemic to provide a place where they could shelter to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Asked for comment on the case, Adam Silverman, spokesman for Vermont State Police, responded by email.

“The investigation into this death remains open and active. We continue to encourage anyone with information that might be relevant to the case to contact the Vermont State Police in Rutland at 802-773-9101. People also can submit a tip anonymously online at vsp.vermont.gov/tipsubmit,” he said.

The Vermont State Police maintain a website with a list of unsolved homicides but Houghton is not on the list.

Cmdr. David LaChance, of Rutland City Police Department, said the city police force also had no new information that could be released to the public at this time.

However, he spoke about the complications a case like Houghton’s death presents during a police investigation.

“It’s much more challenging when you have people, they may not be from this area, there’s a lot more unknowns in a public atmosphere than if (the investigation) was in a house where we knew everybody that was there,” he said.

Police officers have often said that residents of a community can provide important clues to an active investigation. During the pandemic, many Vermonters have restricted their movements, but LaChance said he didn’t think that has made Rutland City investigations more complicated.

“I don’t think that has affected any of the investigation so far,” he said.

LaChance said he didn’t know whether there were any eyewitnesses to the homicide but said he believed there were a good number of people in the general vicinity of the Quality who spoke with police.

While some local leaders had expressed strong concerns about incidents at the Quality Inn or seemingly connected to the people staying there during the pandemic, LaChance said there was not unusual pressure, beyond their desire to solve a homicide case, during the Houghton investigation.

In June, officials with the Economic Services Division of the Department for Children and Families said most of the people placed there had been relocated.

LaChance said police had been called about a number of incidents at the Quality during the pandemic but said not all of them were violent.

“As of this point, we don’t really have a lot of problems (at the Quality Inn,)” LaChance said.

Brian Miller, who retired from the Vermont State Police as a lieutenant after more than 25 years and now owns Green Mountain Resolutions, which provides conflict consulting, professional mediation, consulting and training, said it’s not unusual for a murder investigation to go on for some time until a suspect is identified.

“When a homicide first comes in, they do try to dump a lot of resources up front in it, hoping you can solve it quickly. That’s not always the case, but a case always remains open until it’s solved. That’s the way it is with any case,” he said.

Even when the public doesn’t see the activity, that doesn’t mean law-enforcement officers aren’t working on resolving a case, Miller added.

“There are detectives assigned to it who are following up on leads as they come in and they may be waiting for forensic evidence to come in of some sort. When you just have the victim and nothing else, you have to do the victimology which means you go back and you examine, literally, the victim’s life and what would put them at the place where a homicide occurred and just try to piece together where they could have crossed paths with someone who killed them,” he said.

A press release sent on Wednesday seemed to reinforce Miller’s point. A little more than three years after the death of two Woodbury residents who were found dead in their homes after both homes, which were separate but on the same property, were found to be on fire, the Vermont State Police announced that Manuel Gomez, of Hartford, Connecticut, was a suspect in the deaths.

Gomez is in federal custody and is expected to be arrested to face the Vermont charges after being released, which is scheduled to happen next week.

patrick.mcardle

@rutlandherald.com


In Downtown Rutland, two church steeples are pictured while evening twilight begins to fade.

Steeples of the season


News
Grandpa's Knob wind project visible from Rutland Town, developer to talk with Planning Commission

RUTLAND TOWN — A small portion of a controversial wind project proposed for Grandpa’s Knob in Castleton will be visible from part of Rutland Town, according to the developer’s latest simulations.

The Select Board was informed of this Tuesday by Planning Commission Chair Barbara Noyes Pulling, who is also a staff member at the Rutland Regional Planning Commission where the Grandpa’s Knob Community Wind Project was discussed at a recent committee meeting.

Pulling said until then no one knew the project might be visible from Rutland Town. She invited the spokesman for the developer, Sam Carlson, to give a presentation at the Dec. 16 Planning Commission meeting and also invited Select Board members to attend.

The project is backed by wind developer David Blittersdorf. Carlson, on Blittersdorf’s behalf, has spent the past few months going before select boards in Hubbardton, Castleton, Pittsfield, Proctor and West Rutland giving a preliminary idea of what the project will be.

The developers want to build a single turbine on Grandpa’s Knob in Castleton. The tower will be 275 feet high with blades sweeping 143 feet above that. The 1.5 megawatt turbine would be sited near an existing 310-foot communications tower. Half of the annual net profits would be given to the towns impacted by the project. How those funds get divided remains to be determined. The project itself is about a year away from even filing for a permit.

Since word of the project has spread, folks in opposition have been showing up to select board meetings. Many remember a 2012 proposal by another developer for a much more extensive project, up to 20 turbines, along that same ridge line, that was dropped in 2014. They oppose this project for the same reasons they opposed that one, the impacts on the view and environment. They cite the fact that none of the town plans for the municipalities involved favor industrial wind projects.

According to Blittersdorf, he wants to build this one-turbine project to honor Palmer Putnam and the Smith-Putnam turbine, a wind turbine built on Grandpa’s Knob in 1941. It was the first wind project of that size to be linked with a power grid. It no longer stands there.

“It is the case as we presented to the Rutland Regional Planning Commission that there would be a view of the wind turbine from Boardman Hill Road from a very long ways away,” said Carlson on Wednesday. “And that’s pretty much the only view.”

Simulations of what the project would look like from various vantage points have been given to the towns involved, said Carlson.

He said the project was initially thought to be visible from Proctor, but the latest models show that it won’t.

Visit grandpasknobcommunitywind.com for more details and the latest information the developers have released.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com


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‘Get Back,’ the three-part, six-hour Beatles documentary, directed by Peter Jackson, starts today on Disney+. A8


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