Commission seeks ease on business restrictions


April 23, 2020

Wahkiakum County commissioners quickly handled business at their weekly meeting Tuesday, approving closure of Steamboat Slough Road and signing a letter to the governor asking for opening of certain business activities.

The eastern end of Steamboat Slough Road will be closed from Monday, April 27, to May 18 for road work. A contractor will widen the road and make other improvements from SR 4 to the end along the Columbia River.

In their letter to Governor Jay Inslee, commissioners asked that the list of essential services be modified to allow residential and commercial construction during the governor's closure of business activities to prevent the spread of the covid-19 virus. Inslee's order permitted large scale construction projects, but not smaller work.

"We are respectfully requesting that you consider expanding the list of essential businesses to include commercial and resident construction only in support of new housing," the letter says. "This will allow for construction projects to build primary dwelling units, both multi-family and single-family housing. We strongly believe that with a safety protocol plan in place and available to workers on the site, this work can easily continue using social distancing and other non-pharmaceutical interventions.

"The construction industry is a vital facet of the economy that will help with efforts to limit the spread of covid-19. Allowing residential and commercial construction to take place will increase the number of homes available across the state. Limiting construction likely will exacerbate the existing housing shortage, leading to increased prices and decreased availability.

"The construction industry is also vital to the timber industry. Without the construction element, our lumber mills are slowing down and/or closing. This in turn causes harvesting operations to slow or stop as there is no market for the logs. The loss of timber revenue will further impact the budgets of counties, schools, fire and EMS departments and more across the state."

Commissioners also discussed sending another letter next week to press for a relaxation of the quarantine.

Commissioner Gene Strong commented he would like to see relaxation for construction and landscaping work.

"I think it (covid-19 activity restriction) is overstepping," said commission Chair Dan Cothren. "We're different than Seattle."

Strong said the Washington Association of Counties will hold a conference call Friday to gather input from counties about their status during the pandemic response.

"I think it's really important to push the testing," said Commissioner Mike Backman. "That's what it will take for us to move to the next step.

Strong commented that covid-19 test kits aren't coming to rurual areas, and Backman said the county health department had shared kits with the local clinic.

"I agree," Strong said, "if we 're going to open up, we need testing."


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