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Year-round Vt. campers may be left out in the cold

MARSHFIELD, Vt. -- A crackdown on year-round occupancy at a campground permitted to operate only from May to October could leave occupants homeless, campers and the property's owner say.

Town and state officials have told Onion River Campground owner Dennis Fortin he needs to get permits as a mobile home park rather than a campground if he wants to allow people to stay through the winter.

''The difference is in how [the site] is being used, whether it's being used as a campsite or a residency," said Donald Wernecke, an engineer with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. ''Residents use water differently than campers do in terms of showers and laundry and so on."

Without the proper permits, the campground will have to shut down for the winter, officials say.

''I have no other recourse but to shut down at this point," Fortin said. ''Some of these people have been here for 14 years, and now they're trying to shut me down."

Dave Flood, who is disabled and has been living with his two children at the campground for four years, said he doubted he could find someplace else to live. He said he can't afford to come up with the first and last month's rent plus the security deposit that he'd need to move into an apartment.

''We've been looking for an apartment for about a month, and yesterday we looked at two," Flood said, noting that he lives on about $1,100 per month. ''One was $950 a month. That's $2,700 I've got to come up with to get out of here." He said he doesn't have that much money, and other tenants said they're in similar situations.

The town's Select Board is expecting to hear from Fortin and his lawyer on Tuesday about what they plan to do.

Wernecke said he would wait to see what the town does before the state takes any action. ''I'm leaving it kind of temporarily open-ended until I find out. . . . If he's going to move those mobile homes and return to being a seasonal campground, I'm not going to pursue it."

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