A construction crew works on the foundation of 44 East Ave., 49-story residential tower, as seen March 27. The developer, Intracorp, broke ground on the Rainey Street-area high rise last fall. Image: Intracorp
By Edmond Ortiz
Austin (Travis County)–Construction is one of the essential services that the Texas governor says may continue, albeit with strict social distancing rules in an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 disease.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday issued an executive order, based on U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines, listing permissible essential services.
“The advisory list identifies workers who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continued critical infrastructure viability, including staffing operations centers, maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure, operating call centers,working construction, and performing operational functions, among others,”the DHS memo states.
Construction is mentioned as an essential function in several areas, including infrastructure, energy and petroleum industries, and housing. Manufacture of building materials, and related construction crafts and inspections, also, are designated essential functions. The full list from DHS can be found here.
Abbott said the statewide executive order overrides similar orders provided recently by Texas cities and counties. Larger cities and counties such as Dallas, Houston and San Antonio have allowed construction to continue, but inconsistent orders issued last week by the city of Austin and Travis County caused confusion n the construction industry.
One Texas construction industry group said Tuesday afternoon that the governor’s executive order should clear up many things statewide.”
“From an industry perspective, this is what all of our statewide construction trade associations had been seeking. We now have clarity across 254 counties, which provides certainty for our industry moving forward,” Will McAdams, Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas president, said in an email to members.
However, as of late Tuesday afternoon, it was not clear how Austin was following the governor’s new executive order. The city’s Development Services Department (DSD) announced on Monday it had set up a new process to approve or deny a construction project as “an essential activity, critical infrastructure, essential business or affordable housing project.”
A committee chaired by the DSD director will accept exemption requests from project owners through its website portal. This link provides a look at the exemption request form.
According to the March 30 announcement, project owners should review the stay home/work safe order and guidance documents, all published on the city’s website, to ensure their submission meets the parameters.
The committee will meet daily via teleconference or video conference.
“Approved projects must comply with social distancing requirements and follow the safety measures indicated in the order,” DSD Director Denise Lucas wrote in the announcement.
If the committee decides a project must cease, the committee will issue a date by which the construction crew can safely stop work.
Afterward, the project owner will give the committee information confirming that the project halted work safely. The city will otherwise take enforcement action on any continuing project that was ordered to stop.
The committee will include representatives from several city departments, including police, fire, code compliance, economic development, and neighborhood housing and community development.
VBX will continue to monitor developments related to COVID-19 and inform members.