Construction industry dealing with impacts of Gov. Jay Inslee’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order

After initially believing they would be deemed ‘essential,’ area builders were surprised to learn Washington is one of just two states to label them as ‘non-essential’

VANCOUVER — After originally believing their industry would be deemed as an essential activity in Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy’’ order, commercial and residential construction business owners were disappointed this week to find out they would have to temporarily halt their building.

Commercial and residential construction in the state of Washington has been deemed “non-essential’’ by Gov. Jay Inslee. Photo by Mike Schultz
Commercial and residential construction in the state of Washington has been deemed “non-essential’’ by Gov. Jay Inslee. Photo by Mike Schultz

Inslee issued his order on Monday. After some initial confusion over the status of the construction industry as it pertains to the governor’s order, members of the industry lobbied Inslee to reconsider his non-essential determination. However, Wednesday evening, the governor reiterated that construction would be stopped, making Washington just one of two states (Pennsylvania is the other) in the nation to deem the industry as non-essential.

“In general, commercial and residential construction is not authorized under the proclamation because construction is not considered to be an essential activity,’’ Inslee said in a statement. “However, an exception to the order allows for construction in the following limited circumstances: 

a) Construction related to essential activities as described in the order;

b) To further a public purpose related to a public entity or governmental function or facility, including but not limited to publicly financed low-income housing; or

c) To prevent spoliation and avoid damage or unsafe conditions, and address emergency repairs at both non-essential businesses and residential structures.

“To that end, it is permissible for workers who are building, construction superintendents, tradesmen, or tradeswomen, or other trades including, but not limited to, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, laborers, sheet metal, iron workers, masonry, pipe trades, fabricators, heavy equipment and crane operators, finishers, exterminators, pesticide applicators, cleaning and janitorial staff for commercial and governmental properties, security staff, operating engineers, HVAC technicians, painting, moving and relocation services, forestry and arborists, and other service providers to provide services consistent with this guidance.

“All construction activity must meet social distancing and appropriate health and worker protection measures before proceeding,’’ Inslee said.

The order took effect Wednesday at midnight and will continue until at least April 8. The order could be extended.

“Quite frankly, we were surprised at that,’’ Tracy Doriot, of Doriot Construction, told Clark County Today of the governor’s Wednesday clarification. “Oregon’s and California’s governors both deemed construction as essential. We were given back-door assurances it would not happen so we were quite surprised on Wednesday afternoon when he declared us as non-essential.’’

“Obviously, there are some things we are allowed to do,’’ Doriot said. “We have encouraged our members to move ahead with preservation of property and preservation of spoilage.’’

Crews were still securing their construction sites in Ridgefield on Thursday. The city has given them until Sunday to secure and close their sites. Photo by Mike Schultz
Crews were still securing their construction sites in Ridgefield on Thursday. The city has given them until Sunday to secure and close their sites. Photo by Mike Schultz

“We have a social obligation to keep our employees, customers and subcontractors all safe but we have an obligation to try to provide some medium of income for our workers, so it’s a pretty tough balancing act,’’ Doriot said.

Inslee was asked about his ruling on the construction industry in a media availability on Thursday.

“Construction on essential businesses can continue (such as grocery stores),’’ he said. “Construction for public entities (cities, counties) is allowed. Construction for existing infrastructure is allowed.

“That’s difficult, and there’s going to be some gray areas here,” Inslee said. “I’ve got family members in construction, so this is not an easy decision. But, I’m totally convinced it’s the right one so we can get back construction as soon as we can by restoring the health of our economy.”

Doriot currently serves as the first vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington as well as a board member of the Building Industry Association of Clark County. He says he’s not optimistic that the governor’s order will be lifted on April 8.

“We’ve gotten vibes from the governor’s office that it’s at a point at which it could be extended,’’ he said. “We are not getting any chatter that could go away.  

“It’s pretty tough, there are 17,000 people in this county currently impacted by construction one way or another and many more in the tributary industries all the way up the food chain that are affected as well,’’ Doriot said. “I think the impact will be fairly severe from a worker standpoint. Our workers depend on a weekly paycheck.’’

Doriot said that Doriot Construction is blessed to be in a position to pay its workers “for the foreseeable future, but there is obviously an eventual end to that as well.’’

Doriot Construction is one of the builders that committed to participate in the 2020 Clark County Parade of Homes, which is scheduled for Sept. 4-20 in the highlands of Washougal. He is hopeful that the event won’t be impacted, but it’s obviously too early to know for sure.

“Fortunately, that subdivision is recorded so we are good to go from that standpoint,’’ Doriot said. “We have folks still interested in doing that. My company is a Parade of Homes builder. We are still guardedly optimistic but we’re probably not going to make a decision until April 8. At some point, if the industry is locked down too long, we will not be able to conduct the construction in that tight of a window.’’

The city of Ridgefield has extended its “grace period” for activities necessary to temporarily close down and secure a construction site for protection of the structure and the public safety. All sites must be secured and closed by end of the day Sun., March 29.

“While this wasn’t the outcome we were expecting, unusual times deliver unusual outcomes,’’ Doriot wrote in a post on the Building Industry Association of Clark County Facebook page. “As an industry, and of course our own company, the overarching desire is the safety and good health of our team members and their families. Soon this will pass and we will go back to work building the American Dream for our clients. We are all in this together.’’