Marriott Hotel Construction

Rules enhancing Blaine County's isolation order halted construction in the county and its cities, including the Marriott hotel build in downtown Hailey, will lapse on Monday.

With Hailey’s Public Health Emergency Order set to expire on Sunday, city council members convened over the web Thursday and Friday and voted 3-1 to extend the order following a lengthy debate.

The city’s emergency order—now in place until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, April 19—expands upon the statewide self-isolation order issued by the Department of Health and Welfare on March 25, instituting additional bans on construction and non-essential travel. The state's order is currently set to expire on Wednesday, April 15.

Most of Thursday and Friday’s deliberations focused on whether the city should re-open commercial and residential construction on Monday, a date many contractors had been eyeing since the ban went into effect on March 30.

“I don’t think we’re ready to put our construction workers and landscapers back to work—we just don’t have enough scientific data,” Mayor Martha Burke said after the vote. “This decision has been exhaustive and so terribly hard, but I’m not prepared to take that step.”

One option presented to council members on Thursday was a “soft opening” of construction and landscaping activities, meaning projects could continue under close watch of the city. That might have included regulations requiring hand-sanitizer stations, taking workers’ temperatures, banning carpooling and mandating that workers bring their own lunches rather than buying take-out. Penalties were an option, too—the city could issue stop-work orders for noncompliant work sites, and the Hailey Police Department could issue fines of over $300.

But all of those measures were simply not enough to slow the spread of COVID-19, Burke and council members Sam Linnet, Heidi Husbands and Juan Martinez said.

“The overarching reason we put a hiatus on landscaping and construction was to prevent those who live outside of Blaine County from coming to work, entering a COVID-19 hotbed and taking the virus home to their families,” Burke said. “It wasn’t just to slow our curve here. It was to take pressure off Twin Falls’ and Boise’s hospitals. It isn’t right to contaminate our neighbors.”

Linnet agreed.

“The current order, from all accounts, seems like it is doing what it is intended to do—slow the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “I understand everyone here is trying to do their best with social distancing. But good intentions or character isn’t enough to trump the lack of knowledge we have about this virus.”

Council President Kaz Thea—the lone dissenter in the vote—argued that construction should re-open Monday under the condition that contractors enforce precautionary measures, like hand washing and mask-wearing.

“It’s in the best interest of contract and trades groups to be their own best stewards,” she said. “If they don’t practice [COVID-19] regulations, their employees will contract the virus and that’ll look bad.”

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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