Routt county officials offer guidelines to area contractors about COVID-19 site management
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On Sunday afternoon, in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, the Routt County Building Department and Routt County Board of Commissioners issued a new set of guidelines aimed at protecting workers on construction sites and the community as a whole.
“Our objectives are basically, number one, to limit the number of construction workers traveling in and out of the community,” Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said. “Then, number two, we also wanted to limit the amount of travel even among the construction workers that live within our community and are working on projects.
“I think the short story from my perspective is we gave guidance, but we are in fact depending upon the common sense of our contracting community to self regulate themselves,” Corrigan added.
Corrigan and Routt County Building Official Todd Carr spoke about the guidelines sent out Sunday during a Monday commissioners meeting, explaining that area contractors would be required to file a COVID-19 site management plan that would be enforceable.
The management plan is a requirement and falls under the building department’s jurisdiction as a mandatory policy that must be followed by contractors working in Routt County. Building department officials would have the authority to inactivate a permit and order that work be stopped on a project if a proper site management plan is not filed and properly posted on site.
Contractors learned about the required site management plan in Sunday’s letter, which also contained other guidelines.
“We’ve been taking this very seriously from the very first notices,” said lcoal contractor Eric Rabesa, president and founder of Rivertree Custom Builders. “We completely understand the implications of this, community wide, for anybody who continues to work.”
The guidelines ask contractors to put nonessential construction on hold and request that contractors limit the number of workers coming into the area from outside the county and the state. If workers must come into Routt County, it is recommended they stay in local lodging for the long term rather than going back and forth to home on weekends.
The letter also includes a long list of common-sense recommendations that include: practicing social distancing; limiting the number of workers to five inside a building at one time; using gloves and goggles; not shaking hands; and asking that employees leave the construction site immediately if they develop any COVID-19 symptoms.
“Last week, we adapted to each and every notice they came out with,” Rabesa said. “We had statewide, countywide, national standards … and as a small company, we were able to adapt quickly. I kind of saw the writing on the wall that if we didn’t act quickly, it could get worse, and it could show that the construction community is not taking this seriously, and we would get shut down even faster.”
Like many others, he was confused about what was essential construction and what wasn’t. And it’s a question that commissioners also are grappling with.
“It’s a tricky question,” Commissioner Beth Melton said when asked about which construction projects would be classified as essential. “I think we would probably include a school, but we would also include low-income housing developments in that category. I think anything that is important to public health or critical infrastructure.”
But what about primary residences and second homes under construction?
“This is where the gray area is,” Melton said. “In my opinion, if it’s something like a second home that isn’t going to function as someone’s primary residence, then it’s probably less essential than something where someone is waiting to move into that house.”
Corrigan said it was difficult to define essential, but if the guidelines released by the county on Sunday are not followed, he believes commissioners may be forced to make the decision.
“I agree with your characterization of how difficult it would be to draw that line,” Corrigan said. “I would add that if we see people really ignoring our guidance. … I know that I’m ready to revisit this, and if necessary, make those judgments about what is essential and what is not essential and issue whatever orders are necessary to protect the public.”
On Monday, Rabesa revisited the COVID-19 site management plan for his company, which has just four employees and is currently working on three projects. He plans to keep working on two of those sites because he doesn’t need to bring in subcontractors and can limit the number of employees on each site.
He said both the city and county have done a great job providing information and guidance to businesses under these conditions. He said his company is doing whatever is needed to work under the guidelines and prevent the spread of the virus.
“We understand that we could potentially spread the virus if we do not work responsibly, and that’s why we are severely limiting the number of people on-site, and everything like that, in order to try to proceed if we can, under the right conditions,” Rabesa said.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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The iconic cone-shaped building on the corner of Yampa and 11th streets in downtown Steamboat Springs was once a wood-waste burner before being moved to become the home for Sore Saddle Cyclery and Moots Bicycles.