By Russ and Tiña De Maris
This story was published earlier this week. For the latest updates, please continue reading.
Two Maine campgrounds have filed suit against Maine Governor Janet Mills seeking immediate injunctive relief against the governor’s ban on interstate campground guests. Bayley’s Camping Resort in Scarborough, and Little Ossipee Campground in Waterboro, are asking a U.S. District Court to order the governor to lift the ban on non-state customers. Last week the governor allowed campgrounds to reopen in Maine, but with the stipulation that any guests from out of state must undergo a 14-day quarantine.
That stipulation, says the lawsuit, is a violation of both state and federal constitutional guarantees of the right of interstate travel. Both campground owners contend that the governor’s restrictions not only violate those guarantees, but are also having a huge financial impact on their ability to make a living. In a little less than two months beginning in mid-March, Bayley’s logged more than 700 cancellations and had to refund more than $150,000 in reservation fees. Little Ossipee says its revenues have plummeted nearly $95,000 due to cancellations.
Among other issues, the suit argues that quarantine restrictions for out-of-staters are arbitrary, as they are required regardless of health status, COVID-19 tests, whether individuals show symptoms or not, had recent contact with someone infected with the disease or not, nor whether they’ve already quarantined in their home state. It also takes issue with the state’s threat of criminal prosecution for those who might violate the governor’s order without the availability of due process. The suit sites, as an example, a regular Bayley’s guest from New Hampshire, Curtis Bonell. Both Bonell and his wife have been infected with and recovered from coronavirus, making them at low risk for transmitting it to others, but if they were to travel to Maine and fail to quarantine, they risk criminal penalties.
As to how the governor’s defenders are thinking, the Bangor Daily News published this comment from the state’s attorney general, Aaron Frey: “The executive orders and the restarting plan at issue in this lawsuit were carefully crafted and have been reviewed and updated in order to protect Mainers’ health during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Frey continued: “We will represent the governor and will vigorously defend the constitutionality of the challenged executive orders and restarting plan and the governor’s authority to protect public health.”
We spoke with Thomas Bayley of Bayley’s Camping Resort on Tuesday morning. Asked if he was continuing the suit, he told us quite emphatically that this week the matter would begin airing before a judge. He’s looking forward to a positive resolution of the matter, and hopes more information will be available next week.
Update – Saturday 5/30/2020
Just prior to the expiration of the mandatory 14-day quarantine for out-of-state guests to Maine’s RV parks, the governor extended the ban. Not only are RV parks and campgrounds affected, likewise are hotels and motels. Under the extension, anyone coming into Maine from out of state must submit themselves to the two-week quarantine on arrival at any of these places of accommodation.
According to industry sources, this has raised the ire of some RV park operators and moteliers, some suggesting they will ignore the governor’s order and take in out of state guests regardless of the directive for a quarantine. The federal government has also voiced a negative view of the continuing ban through the Department of Justice.
Attorneys for the Department, including Maine’s own U.S. attorney, have filed a brief in support of Bayley’s Campground, citing concerns that the feds have a “compelling interest in protecting the public and citizens’ constitutional right to be free from unjustified discrimination on the basis of state residency.” The government’s basis, it says, is that in its view, the State of Maine is acting toward non-Maine residents in a discriminatory fashion by infringing on their ability to be patrons of RV parks and campgrounds.
The federal brief also notes that not all non-residents are forced into quarantine once they cross the border. “As far as public safety goes, it is unclear why out-of-state residents may enter Maine to engage in any ‘legal, business, professional, environmental permitting and insurance services,’ for example, but not to patronize a campground or RV park. … If Maine wants to prevent the spread of COVID-19, one would think it would start by preventing outsiders from attending a boardroom meeting, not from pitching a tent.”
Maine’s governor, Janet Mills, is not pleased with the apparent interference in what she sees as a state’s matter. Mills writes she is “deeply disappointed and frankly disgusted – that the U.S Department of Justice is making a concerted effort to undermine the health of the people of Maine.” She added, “Maintaining the 14-day quarantine … has never been about anything other than protecting the health and safety of Maine people at a time when millions are expected to flock to our state from COVID-19 hot spots,” Mills said. “I imagine it is for this same reason that so many other governors have enacted similar measures.”
As to the Bayley lawsuit, at the end of the work week a federal judge rejected the suit’s request for a preliminary injunction against the governor’s orders.
We understand that some RV park owners are incensed that their own support and promotion organization, the Maine Campground Owners Association, has been silent on the matter. We obtained a copy of the organization’s last newsletter, issued earlier this week, and it contained not one word about the quarantine order for out-of state residents. We have made repeated attempts to reach Kathy Dyer, the executive director of the organization, but as of Saturday evening, calls have not been returned.
We’ll keep you posted as this situation changes.