The Clark County Council has come out in opposition to Gov. Jay Inslee’s work stoppage on most construction, signing on to a letter almost unanimously in support of relaxing prohibitions on one of the county’s biggest trades.
The council voted 4-1 to sign a letter drafted by Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy addressed to Inslee regarding construction. The letter urges “refinement” of the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order that has shuttered many businesses in the state, including residential and commercial construction, as a response to the spread of COVID-19, a disease that has killed thousands in the country.
Medvigy said he drafted the letter after speaking with local construction union representatives. He mentioned that Clark County’s proximity to Oregon could come into play, as work for construction trades could shift across the river with no opportunities in Washington state. That, and “spoilage” from degrading construction could have a severe impact on the infrastructure in the state.
Councilor Julie Olson said residential construction was “critical” not just to Clark County, but the state as a whole. Council chair Eileen Quiring was also in favor of signing the letter.
“If the state of Oregon is allowing contractors to continue to work and build homes, what’s going to happen is, these workers are going to go over there,” Quiring said. “It’s been hard to find people to work anyway.”
“I really do believe this letter is emergent,” Quiring said.
Medvigy noted that Inslee has allowed construction “under some protocols” which he believed should be expanded industry-wide.
“It may not be perfect, but I think it conveys the unique aspects of Clark County,” Medvigy said about the letter.
Councilor Temple Lentz, the lone “no” vote, said she found the letter unspecific, asking to have more time to revise the letter before official approval.
“While the economic impact to our community is important, the reason that things were stopped was … to flatten the curve,” Lentz said, referring to the concept that by employing social distancing, the spread of COVID-19 would be less so than without any measures.
“I think that we should be prioritizing our community’s public health first,” Lentz said. “This is going to be damaging, but one of the reasons that Washington state has been able to get to the position it is where our curve is flatter — and we are at this moment, should we maintain the social distancing that we’ve been following — we are actually in the position where we’ve already potentially hit our peak and we’re coming down.”
“So saying that we should open things back up will defeat a lot of that work,” Lentz said.
Olson argued that it was possible to maintain social distancing guidelines while still continuing to build. Quiring added that construction workers already were bound to obeying laws set by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, going further to mention that low-income housing construction is still allowed under the governor’s order.
Lentz responded by questioning why the building of low-income housing was allowed under the order in the first place.
“By arguing that it’s more important to send a few contractors back to work than it is to maintain acceptable social distancing is not an acceptable argument to me,” Lentz said.
Inslee himself weighed in on the potential to open up the order to construction during a press conference April 9. He said the state was in talks to with those in the construction industry to see a “safe” way to go about continuing the trade in residential construction under the order.
“No decisions have been made about that,” Inslee said.
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