Construction deemed nonessential by Gov. Jay Inslee

The governor issued a memo on March 25 that states construction is not considered an essential activity

VBJ file photo

After some confusion this week regarding if those working in the construction industry were still able to go to work during Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Health Proclamation,” Inslee released a memo on March 25 stating, “In general, commercial and residential construction is not authorized under the Proclamation because construction is not considered to be an essential activity.”

According to the memo, an exception to the order allows for construction in the following limited circumstances:

  • Construction related to essential activities as described in the order (the order deemed several kinds of construction workers as essential);
  • To further a public purpose related to a public entity or governmental function or facility, including but not limited to publicly financed low-income housing, or;
  • To prevent spoliation and avoid damage or unsafe conditions, and address emergency repairs at both nonessential businesses and residential structures.

The memo states that it is permissible for workers who are building, construction superintendents, tradesmen or tradeswomen or other trades, including but limited to plumbers, electricians, carpenters, laborers, sheet metal, iron workers, masonry, pipe trades, fabricators, heavy equipment and crane operators, finishers, exterminators, pesticide applicators, cleaning and janitorial staff for commercial and governmental properties, security staff, operating engineers, HVAC technicians, painting, moving and relocation services, forestry and arborists, and other service providers to provide services consistent with this guidance.

The memo also states that all construction activity must meet social distancing and appropriate health and worker protection measures before proceeding.

After state construction memo, City of Vancouver reduces commercial and residential construction inspection services; BIA releases further guidance and interpretation

According to a release from Stoel Rives LLP, a national law office specializing in business with offices in Portland and Seattle, Inslee’s original proclamation raised a number of questions in the industry, including whether all residential construction was deemed an essential service. Because of the resulting confusion, some residential projects began shutting down, while many did not, with the trades on those projects expecting to continue with work, stated Stoel Rives. The construction memorandum added clarity, and has made significant ripples already prompting swift moves from local jurisdictions and construction associations.

Beginning March 26, the City of Vancouver’s Community and Economic Development Department has temporarily reduced most of its commercial and residential construction inspection services.

“City inspection services will only be scheduled for construction that is considered essential under the governor’s expanded guidance issued on March 25,” said Jason Nortz, Vancouver’s development review manager. 

Affected city services include building, electrical and fire inspection of commercial or residential construction. This reduction in services will remain in place until the governor’s order expires on April 8, and would be extended if the order is extended.

The Building Industry Association released a memo with guidance and specific recommendations for identifying essential construction sites and working with government officials. It can be found here:

In accordance with the Guidance Memorandum, BIA recommends:

Notably, the letter from BIA Executive Director Avaly Scarpelli to its membership admonishes contractors, “You do not want to be a frontpage headline as the business that is defying the order while everyone else is staying home to protect our community.” The BIA is working with attorneys at Jordan Ramis.



Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start