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The Ketchum city council voted to scrap a proposal from Mayor Neil Bradshaw and city staff that would have allowed construction to resume on Monday during a contentious special meeting on Saturday afternoon, opting instead to keep more restrictive COVID-19 rules in place until at least April 20.

The city council will hold another special meeting on Friday, April 17, to reassess this decision based on how the coronavirus situation develops in the next week. Currently, a statewide stay-home order is in effect until Wednesday.

Ketchum’s decision aligns with recent moves by both Hailey and Blaine County to continue the stricter measures for another week. Bellevue is expected to vote on extending its ordinance on Monday—a plan vocally supported by its mayor, Ned Burns.

For Ketchum, Saturday’s outcome marked rejection of Bradshaw’s initial plan. The mayor favored easing restrictions to allow people to “hike and hammer nails” come Monday morning, noting that medical facilities can now handle patient loads. Only a handful of new patients with COVID-19 symptoms are going to the hospital each day, he said.

Councilman Jim Slanetz shared Bradshaw’s position, but he lacked support from the other three members. Councilwomen Amanda Breen and Courtney Hamilton pushed for a more cautious approach, opposing changes to the local order when it expired on Sunday night and not fixing a date for builders and landscapers to return to work. Councilman Michael David wanted to extend the rules, too, but wanted to set a target for construction to resume.

After two hours of debate, Bradshaw and Slanetz joined David’s camp, with the mayor ultimately casting a tie-breaking vote setting a back-to-work date for construction firms. Saturday’s addendum stipulates that the council revisit the measure on Friday, and sets out 18 safety standards and failure-to-comply penalties for work sites once construction resumes. For now, though, the March 27 order stands, including its ban on construction, ban on traveling out of the county for non-essential services, and  requirement that anybody coming into the county from out of state self-isolate for 14 days.

In the virtual meeting, Bradshaw couched the lifting of the construction ban as a “calculated balancing act,” and a “cautious and conservative approach.”

Hamilton was not swayed, telling the council that she feared the new safety standards could not be followed or properly enforced on job sites.

“Construction in the city of Ketchum is not an essential service right now,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton also worried that the mandate for workers to wear personal protective equipment would put them in direct competition with healthcare workers. City Administrator Suzanne Frick said the requirement simply asked for protective equipment, not medical grade protective equipment, maintaining alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation that people wear a face mask or fabric covering over their mouth and nose when in a situation where social distancing might be hard to maintain.

Regardless, Hamilton said she wouldn't budge without first seeing an enforcement plan, reiterating the difficulties she anticipated in administering the rules and protecting workers and their families.

Breen echoed Hamilton’s concerns.

“I’m opposed to changing our local order at this time,” she said.

David also thought that it was too soon to lift the ban, but found it necessary to set a tentative re-open date to give job sites time to prepare, gather necessary safety equipment and inform workers. Slanetz said the city should simply follow the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare‘s less-strident statewide order, which doesn’t mention construction or landscaping.

Ketchum Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin, who was also present during the virtual meeting, said his department's COVID-19 load peaked around March 20. Since then, many cases have cleared and new patients are now receiving their test results much faster. The Ketchum Fire Department has been able to release some of the extra help it had brought in amid the spike, thanks to declining 911 calls and lessening transport needs.

The city will announce a time for Friday's special City Council meeting in the upcoming week. In the meantime, residents can read the set of 18 construction-site standards that will tentatively begin April 20 here.

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