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GRAND RAPIDS — Construction companies and contractors are figuring out what a shelter in place order for Michigan means for their projects.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this morning issued an executive order that goes into effect tonight suspending in-person operations that are not necessary to sustain or protect life. The order directs Michigan residents to stay in their homes unless they are part of critical infrastructure workforce. The order is in effect beginning at midnight tonight and lasts for at least the next three weeks.
Whitmer included a list of work that is considered essential — the list, like federal designations, did not specifically mention the construction industry. Some organizations are working on what the guidelines are for the construction industry, including the West Michigan chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.
“ABC Western Michigan is working to interpret the executive order guidelines by which construction may or may not continue to operate as an essential service,” a spokesperson for ABC said in an email. “We will have more clarity in the oncoming days from our governmental affairs and legal teams.”
An update Tuesday to the FAQ page for the executive order noted: “Some limited forms of construction are permissible, including construction to maintain and improve essential public works like roads, bridges, the telecommunications infrastructure, and public health infrastructure. Construction workers may also undertake such projects as necessary to maintain and improve the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of residences. In addition, businesses may designate construction firms to provide necessary support to the work of the businesses' critical infrastructure workers.”
Tim Schowalter, president and CEO of Pioneer Construction Inc., said not all of Pioneer’s projects need to stop due to the order, because some work is being done for critical business sectors like health care.
“Right now, we are thinking that the majority of our projects will be able to continue,” Schowalter said, adding that companies need to secure designations from their clients by March 31 to continue service, according to the executive order.
Corey Bixby, director of marketing and public relations at Orion Construction Co. Inc., told MiBiz in an email that in anticipation of the order, Orion put in site-specific safety plans for securing its project sites.
“For example, many of our job sites are completely fenced in, have 24-hour motion sensing and tracking cameras and are posted with signage to ensure safety of any passerby,” he said. “Each on-site project superintendent will be communicating our safety procedures to our trade partners, architects and owners.”
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) has called on the federal government to treat the construction industry as an essential industry that must remain in operation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Given the precautions already in place, halting construction will do little to protect the health and safety of construction workers. But it will go a long way in undermining economic vitality by depriving millions of workers of the wages they will need over the coming days,” AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr said in a statement. “At the same time, these measures have the potential to bankrupt many construction firms who have contractual obligations to stay on schedule or risk incurring significant financial penalties.”
Before today’s executive order, the American Subcontractors Association issued communication about considering construction as an essential service. If construction work is halted, the group said it “will have a severe effect on infrastructure needs in every state.”
In the event that construction is halted, AGC urged project owners to continue their scheduled payments to contractors as a down payment for work to be completed on projects in order to help mitigate the potential economic effects of shutdowns.
In today’s press conference, Whitmer said the shelter in place order was the best option for the economy.
“Our action will save lives,” she said. “In the long run, doing this now shortens the time our economy suffers.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to add new information from the state FAQ page about the executive order.