Amy Ulrich walks her dog, Kahlua, by the Waterfront Place Apartments at the Port of Everett on Monday. Gov. Jay Inslee ordered most construction projects around the state to shut down for two weeks. That paused work at several big housing projects, including this one at the port. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Amy Ulrich walks her dog, Kahlua, by the Waterfront Place Apartments at the Port of Everett on Monday. Gov. Jay Inslee ordered most construction projects around the state to shut down for two weeks. That paused work at several big housing projects, including this one at the port. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

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Most building sites have shut down, but there are exceptions

The state Senate Republican Caucus has asked Gov. Jay Inslee to lift the ban on residential work.

EVERETT — Boeing’s airplane assembly factories — shut down. Restaurants and retail stores — shut down. Construction sites — mostly shut down.

There has been little or no outcry against the first two categories. But Gov. Inslee’s order last week to halt non-essential construction projects until April 8 has drawn the ire of Washington’s Senate Republican Caucus.

The 21-member group has asked Inslee to immediately reverse last week’s order halting non-essential construction, including residential job sites. Public works, government and low-income housing projects are exempt from the ban — though they must practice social distancing on the job.

The shutdown deadline was midnight last Wednesday. Toward the end of last week, developers and contractors scrambled to batten down the hatches — stowing equipment and tools and securing construction sites. Emergency repairs to non-essential structures are allowed.

“Construction needs to pause,” Inslee said last week, adding that “there’s going to be some kind of gray areas.”

The Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, in a statement Monday, said “most home builders have either secured their job sites or are in the process of doing so. Some are also taking steps to avoid damage or unsafe conditions, all of which are permitted actions.”

The trade group said it worked “very hard to avoid this outcome” but acknowledged COVID-19 is causing serious health, social and economic fallout.

“Based upon the governor’s guidance of March 25, most home-building businesses are not currently deemed essential service providers,” the group said in a statement. “This is devastating, not only for the work of constructing housing in our region, but also to the workers and families who depend on the home-building sector for economic security.”

In Snohomish County, the governor’s mandate affects a number of high-profile private projects, including Waterfront Place Apartments, a 266-unit complex at the Port of Everett; a residential and retail development under way at Alderwood mall in Lynnwood; and private student apartment development on North Broadway in Everett, a project which is not affiliated with Everett Community College or Washington State University Everett.

Meanwhile, work continues on the city of Everett’s Grand Avenue Park pedestrian bridge over West Marine View Drive near 16th Street, Everett Public Works spokeswoman Kathleen Baxter said in an email. Part walkway, part utility project, the bridge connects new stormwater and sewer pipes.

A small crew — less than a dozen workers — continue “working on park grading and walls for the entrance to the bridge. At various times the electrical subcontractor has been working on electrical tasks at the bottom of the bridge,” Baxter said.

The municipal bridge project overlooks the Waterfront Place Apartments construction at 1300 West Marine View Drive. Wooden frames had begun to sprout across the 5.5-acre site. Calgary-based Gracorp is partnering with Mercer Island-based SeaLevel Properties to complete the two-building apartment complex by spring 2021.

It’s that kind of residential stoppage that prompted the state Senate Republican Caucus, including state Sen. Ron Muzzall of Whidbey Island, to request that Inslee immediately rescind the order.

The people of Washington rely on the residential construction industry to not only provide housing, but to maintain housing structures and make sure that they do not present a danger to individuals,” the caucus said in a letter sent to Inslee last Friday.

“In your clarification, you appear to recognize these functions as being critical when it comes to government construction projects, such as low-income housing, but not in the private sector where it is every bit as essential.

“… In addition, the residential construction market is of such high importance to our overall economy that not changing course on this directive could result in irreparable harm being done to our state economy and Washington families — harm that would extend well beyond the current crisis,” the letter concluded.

On Monday, Inslee’s staff said the governor is reviewing the letter.

Mark Riker, executive secretary of Washington Building Trades, which represents unions and building and construction trade councils, said the shutdown will have a “drastic impact,” but he agrees with the governor’s action.

“It’s important to get ahead of this,” he said of the spreading COVID-19 infections.

“It’s our families that should not have to worry about being exposed,” Riker said. “Especially workers with vulnerable family members. We don’t like being at home, we’re proud of what we do, but we’re taking this time to pause and to protect workers and their families.”

In an interview, Sen. Muzzall said three sons-in-law work in the building trades. Their jobs, as a diesel mechanic, a truck driver and a framer, allow them to work at a physical distance from others.

He also worries that closed construction sites could be a target for thieves.

“You’ve got lumber packages, wiring,” said Muzzall. Security is costly and an option many smaller contractors can’t afford.

Riker, with Washington Building Trades, disagrees with the notion that physical distance is inherent in the construction industry.

Workers come in contact with one another frequently, Riker said.

“It’s a misunderstanding of how construction works,” he said.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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