Some 1,000 to 1,500 people on the North Olympic Peninsula are likely to go back to work within the next ten days now that Gov.Jay Inslee has loosened restrictions on construction, say local experts.
Clallam County could see between 500 and 1,000 workers back on the job and Jefferson County could have about 500 return to work over the next 10 days, they said Friday.
“This isn’t going to change overnight,” said Kevin Russell, past president of the North Peninsula Building Association and past president and present board member of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW).
“We’re going to have to live by some strict rules for awhile.”
Statewide, thousands of construction workers are expected to return to work after Inslee announced the plan on Friday.
It was the first “measured step” in a return to public life that Inslee referred to earlier last week.
This is Phase 1. Contractors can work only on existing projects and strict coronavirus social distancing protocols must be in place.
Before work on the projects can resume, all contractors must post a plan at each site that addresses use of personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, on-site social distancing and sanitation.
A site-specific supervisor must be designated to enforce the safety plan and employees will undergo training on the new policies.
“If it can’t be done with social distancing, then it cannot proceed at this time,” Inslee said, and he warned sites will be shut down if they do not follow the protocols once they resume work.
Construction was halted under the stay-home order and closure of non-essential businesses that Inslee ordered last month. There were some exemptions, including projects related to health care, energy, and publicly financed low-income housing, as well as emergency repairs.
Inslee had been working with a construction work group in previous weeks, including the Building Industry Association of Washington, the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council and the Association of Washington Business, to come up with the plan.
“I’m thrilled that they worked together,” said Lizanne Coker, executive director of the Jefferson County Home Builders Association.
“The governor was open to listening to our needs and getting people back to work safely.”
She said the association has 56 members and, with other contractors who aren’t members, estimated that some 500 would return to work over the next fortnight.
The change would give a boost to housing industry, said Diana Johnson, executive officer of the North Peninsula Building Association, based in Port Angeles.
“We are going to be able to get back to helping the residential shortage crisis.”
Russell said that the association has 147 members and that his educated guess is that between 500 and 1,000 workers will be on the job within 10 days.
“We’ll see how Phase 1 works — make sure everyone is practicing safely,” Russell said.
”The next phase is to open up to new construction.”
He said many jobs had been left uncompleted last month and asked the public to be patient as contractors work through the backlog.
Russell said that Inslee’s “one size fits all” policy had not been fair to those with small jobs, where social distancing could have been worked out. He felt the designation of essential and non-essential was weighted toward government projects and against private contractors.
He lauded the Peninsula’s state delegation for their work in cementing the plan.
Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim and Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend, “were advocates for us,” Russell said.
The governor said he plans to convene similar work groups with other industries to discuss a path to lifting restrictions in other sectors of the economy.
Requirements for Phase 1 can be found on the North Peninsula Building Association website at https://www.npba.info/ and on the Building Industry Association of Washington’s website at https://biaw.com/Home.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].
The Assocated Press contributed to this story.