Low-risk construction gets green light from governor

Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business | APRIL 2020
By: Wendy Culverwell 

Some $100 million in residential construction and other “low risk” construction is reviving across the Tri-Cities.

Gov. Jay Inslee nudged the door open to an industry he controversially sidelined in the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Under pressure from homebuilders and two eastern Washington congressional representatives, Inslee announced April 25 that low risk construction such as homebuilding may restart under limited circumstances.

Photo by Wendy Culverwell

The move is not a signal that Washington can put the pandemic behind it.

The day of reopening is not today. If we did it today, this virus would return with a vengeance,” he said.

At the recommendation of a working group consisting of construction industry experts, the governor is allowing activities that can be performed if social distancing can be kept between workers. Employers must file a coronavirus plan with regulators, provide masks, sanitizer and other personal protective gear, as well as plans to manage coronavirus if it is detected at work sites.

Sites that do not comply can be shut down.

Inslee said meeting a panel of industry experts the reopening of limited construction a “template” that may guide the reopening of other industries.

The construction panel consisted of Greg Lane, executive vice president, Building Industry Association of Washington; Mark Riker, executive secretary, Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council; Mike Ennis, government affairs director, Association of Washington Business; Josh Swanson, political and communications representative, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302; Dave D’Hondt, executive vice president, Associated General Contractors; and Matt Swanson, political director, Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters.

Home Builders Association of the Tri-Cities and its peers across the state lobbied the governor to reconsider if residential construction should have been included in the stay-home order. Washington was one of just a few states that did not treat home building as essential.

Reps. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, and Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-Spokane, wrote the governor a letter urging him to reverse the decision as well.

Newhouse praised the governor’s move to reopen construction but said including it in the shutdown order cost the state $690 million in lost wages.

“I am glad to see Governor Inslee finally do what is right. The need to bring parity between public and private construction has been long overdue,” Newhouse said in a written statement. “Not only will reopening private construction ensure thousands of Washingtonians can earn a paycheck, but it will provide relief to families who have been displaced from their homes during this pandemic and will increase access to housing across our state.”

The HBA posted a sample job site safety plan to its website to help members get back to work as quickly as possible.

It is unclear just how many local projects were idled by the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order. The HBA reports Tri-City area building agencies issued 386 permits for single-family homes in the first three months of the year with a joint value of $116 million.

Commercial and public sector projects pushed the total authorized to more than $255 million.

The governor’s order allowed municipal projects and some emergency work to go ahead. School construction, road work and public utility projects were able to go ahead.

Coronavirus is a serious threat to work sites with potential long-term consequences.

The Richland School District’s Tapteal Elementary School project was shut down after a positive test for coronavirus. The school will not open as expected this fall and the district said it will not advertise for bids for the new Badger Mountain Elementary as planned. See related story.

This story by Wendy Culverwell originally appeared in the April edition of the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business. See the story here