By Katy Savage
If you don’t wear a face mask at the Rutland Town transfer station, you could be charged with trespassing.
The Rutland Board of Health voted unanimously Jan. 14 to enforce a trespass law over the next six months at the transfer station. Those not wearing masks could be convicted of unlawful trespass — a criminal offense —and face up to three years in jail and/or pay a fine up to $500.
“That’s the mechanism the town has chosen to enforce the mask mandate,” Health Officer John Paul Faignant said. “There’s nothing else you can do.”
Faignant said he received complaints from employees and customers at the transfer station two weeks ago. Select Board Administrative Assistant Bill Sweet also said some people have refused to wear masks.
“There have been people that came to the transfer station that weren’t wearing masks,” Sweet said. “They had been asked to and refused, so the board decided to take further action.”
Sweet said the trespass order will be enforced by the police department.
The Rutland Town Select Board was one of several towns that passed an ordinance in July to require people to wear facial coverings in all public establishments.
“We haven’t had an issue with people not complying, so when they don’t comply, they stand out,” Sweet said.
Sweet said the ordinance was meant to be advisory at the time.
“There was not a lot of emphasis put on penalties and enforcements,” he said. “It wasn’t meant to be punitive.”
Gov. Phil Scott also signed an executive order in August requiring all Vermonters to wear masks or cloth facial coverings where it’s not possible to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. Scott did not, at the time, issue guidance on how to enforce face mask wearing.
Faignant said the town hasn’t had to enforce the trespassing ordinance yet.
“Most people are compliant, it’s just one or two once in a while,” Faignant said. “Other people take offense. It’s necessary for everybody to comply with the rules.”
Mask use in other public areas in Rutland Town, including the town hall, hasn’t been an issue, according to Faignant.
The transfer station is open nine hours a week and is run by two part-time employees. Faignant said there’s been a slight increase in the amount of trash at the transfer station since the pandemic.
“I think people are busy around the house generating trash because there’s nothing else to do,” Faignant said.
There’s also been an “astronomical increase” in the volume of boxes since the pandemic, he said.
“That suggests a lot of shipping and home shopping,” Faignant said.
Rutland County Solid Waste District Manager Mark Shea said he’s not heard of complaints or similar mandates in other towns.
“I do get calls almost every week thanking us in our mutual effort of providing a safer environment during an ever-growing public health crisis,” Shea said. “As essential workers we have been open throughout the pandemic and plan to continue.”
Killington Town Manager Chet Hagenbarth said the mask mandate hasn’t been a problem in town.
“From what I’ve noticed if someone’s not wearing a mask everybody stays far away from them,” Hagenbarth said.