Opinion: Clark County Today editor sides with the majority of the County Council, asking governor to reconsider designation of construction as non-essential

Only Councilor Temple Lentz elects not to sign letter sent to Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday

I value human life. I respect the fact that we are in the midst of a global pandemic. I am the first to admit, I don’t have a clue about the science of COVID-19, beyond what I read and that seems to change from day to the next. Because of that, I have respected the decisions of our elected officials and government leaders when it comes to orders of social distancing and stay-at-home requirements.

For the most part, I haven’t interacted with anyone socially since Mon., March 16. I shared thoughts with you in a previous column about how, as a 56-year-old who could easily be considered in the vulnerable demographic, I’m taking this coronavirus pandemic seriously. I’m doing what I’m being told to do. That said, this pandemic isn’t going to last forever. At some point, the stay-at-home orders will be lifted, or at least eased, or modified. Sure, just like 9/11, we may face a new reality. Life as we know it might be altered somewhat. Who knows, some of us might have shaken our last hand in public.

Some difficult decisions are going to have to be made, hopefully sooner rather than later. When will it be safe to open things back up? When can we get the millions who have lost their jobs in recent weeks back to work? There is going to be strong disagreement, I’m sure, in this country, in this state, and in this county. The collateral economic damage that has been created by the shutdowns is going to become a bigger part of this conversation. We haven’t even begun to experience the impact of the economic losses that are now piling up.

I’m blessed, for now, to be among those who haven’t missed a paycheck. Our staff here at Clark County Today has continued to do our job, largely from home, or responsibly when we do leave our homes. So, I don’t say this for selfish reasons, but I know myself well enough to know I’m going to be rooting for our leaders to put folks back to work sooner rather than later.

County councilors pen letter to governor

There’s at least one industry in Clark County that our county councilors want to see back at work. The members of the Clark County Council wrote a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday, asking him to change his stance on the residential and commercial construction industry. Washington is one of just two states (Pennsylvania is the other) to label the industry as non-essential.

“We are urging further refinement of your guidance for essential construction throughout the state, but will focus on Clark County,’’ stated the councilors in the letter. “We are advocating that you deem all housing presently under construction and all commercial construction near completion to be deemed essential in much the same way Oregon and California have.’’

Four of the five members of the Clark County Council have sent a letter to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee asking him to allow members of the residential and commercial construction industry to go back to work. Photo by Mike Schultz
Four of the five members of the Clark County Council have sent a letter to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee asking him to allow members of the residential and commercial construction industry to go back to work. Photo by Mike Schultz

The letter was signed by four of the five councilors, only Councilor Temple Lentz failed to sign the letter. County Chair Eileen Quiring and councilors John Blom, Julie Olson and Gary Medvigy all signed the letter.

Click to view PDF.

“We respect and trust that all builders, unions, skilled and unskilled labor in all trades are using best practices and protocols of social distancing to minimize the risks from COVID-19 to our workforce and community,’’ the councilors wrote. “There has been no specific outbreak attributed to the building industry in the private or public sector, in part, because they remain focused on OSHA standards, health and safety at the work place [sic] more so than the public at large. We believe that our hard-working construction industry, using best health and safety practices, would rather be working than furloughed and on unemployment. Please allow them back to work.’’

The councilors pointed out that Clark County will suffer more than other areas in Washington state.

“We believe the breadth of the current order will create far more devastation to our economy in Clark County, because of our more severe housing shortage as one of the fastest growing areas in the state. This shortage contributes to high costs and increasing homelessness. Our county budget is aggravated here more than anywhere in the state due to sales tax leakage to Oregon, causing a structural deficit from the loss of approximately 25% of sales tax revenue,’’ the councilors wrote. “Approximately 35% of the County’s sales tax has come from construction related activities. In 2019, our General Fund received $43.0M in sales tax or $15.0 million sales tax generated by construction activity alone. The near complete shut-down of our construction industry and loss of revenue in Clark County is dire.’’

The councilors reported in the letter that the construction industry in Clark County accounts for about 15,600 jobs and that Clark County accounts for about 10 percent of the state’s economic impact from the construction industry of $8.4 billion per year.

“The annual statewide tax revenue, for state and local governments, is around $2.2B,’’ wrote the councilors. “Proportioned to Clark County, this is around $4.2M per week in Clark County alone in tax revenue lost to the state and county for every week a broad building moratorium remains in place.

“In addition, spoilage is now becoming a significant problem with the weather and increased theft occurring. Although, your present order allows for protecting construction, ‘shear inspections’ need to be done before a structure can be weathered-in and those can’t be conducted all at once throughout the county with the current constraints. OSB board, for example can only be in the weather for no more than 60 days, before deterioration, and mold set in. Our local contractors will go where the work is and that is next door to Oregon. Once, construction resumes here, the work force [sic] will not be available for our job sites. We will be facing an ever increasing percentage of spoilage as a result.’’

Click to view PDF.

On Thursday, the city of Ridgefield issued an official order with its interpretation of Gov. Inslee’s proclamation as it pertains to the construction industry. The order, signed by City Manager Steve Stuart allows construction to continue to “prevent spoliation and avoid damage.” Specifically, construction allowed to continue in the city is limited to framing, windows, house wrap, temporary construction doors, roofing (including shingles), plumbing necessary to extend vents through roofing so roofers can flash the vent pipes, siding, securing garage entries with plywood sheeting.

It should be noted, the Clark County councilors are not the first group to make a plea to the governor to change his designation for the construction industry. The line to the governor on this topic is a long list that includes some of the most influential organizations and individuals in the state and Inslee hasn’t shown any indication he will budge. Right or wrong, I side with the councilors in hoping somehow, someway, he allows this segment of the business community to get back to work.