COVID-19: Governor orders all non-essential construction to stop
BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Some Montclair development construction has stopped after Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order ordering the stop of nonessential construction due to COVID-19 as of Friday, April 10, 8 p.m.
Prior to the order taking effect, continued construction in Montclair included the Seymour Street project and a 11-unit housing project on Park Street off of Watchung Plaza. Construction at Glen Willow Lofts, on Glenridge Avenue and North Willow Street, was quiet.
However, what will continue as “essential construction” remains to be seen.
“The township does not have a list of construction projects that may not continue and the building office is awaiting guidance from the state as to enforcement,” Communications Director Katya Wowk said on Monday.
Prior to the executive order, construction crews and landscapers were allowed to continue operating as an essential business. Landscapers will be allowed to continue to operate as an essential business.
Some residents living near construction sites have questioned the continued building during the pandemic.
“It’s literally business as usual for those people. The quest to fill their bank accounts is apparently more important than the health and safety of their employees and all of us,” a resident wrote to Montclair Local.
Under Executive Order 107, which shut down certain businesses due to COVID-19, essential workers included law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other first responders; cashiers or store clerks, construction workers, utility workers, repair workers, warehouse workers, lab researchers, information technology maintenance workers, janitorial and custodial staff, and certain administrative staff.
The governor’s Executive Order 108 further prohibits counties and townships from taking initiatives against any executive order.
Township Manager Tim Stafford said that “it would be illegal” for the township to counter the order.
But last Wednesday, April 8, Murphy signed Executive Order No. 122, ceasing all non-essential construction projects to limit the spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey. The order also outlines specific protections and policies for businesses engaged in essential construction projects.
“If you think that for some reason just because the curve is beginning to flatten that we're out of the woods, this order will disavow you of that,” Murphy said at his April 8 briefing. “All non-essential construction across the state will cease indefinitely, effective 8 p.m. Friday [April 10]. Exceptions to the shutdown include projects at our hospitals and schools, in our transportation and utility sector, the building of affordable housing, other individual housing sites that can adhere to strict limits on the number of workers on site at any given time, emergency repairs and work needed to safely secure a construction site, and other limited instances.”
In Montclair, school construction — such as needed repairs to stairways at Buzz Aldrin Middle School, and $1,205,000 in needed masonry repairs to all schools — can proceed. And the renovations of Tuers Park are allowed under the law. Construction on the Midtown Parking Deck can also continue, said Wowk.
Safety protocols for essential construction provide that meetings must be kept to less than 10 people and only for essential workers, all workers must maintain six-foot distancing, start and stop stop times and breaks for workers should be established, workers must wear face masks, jobs sites must provide hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, and a requirement of frequent sanitization of high-touch areas like restrooms, breakrooms, equipment, and machinery.
According to the order, “essential construction projects” include the following:
- Projects necessary for the delivery of health care services, including but not limited to hospitals, other health care facilities, and pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities.
- Transportation projects, including roads, bridges, and mass transit facilities or physical infrastructure, including work done at airports or seaports.
- Utility projects, including those necessary for energy and electricity production and transmission, and any decommissioning of facilities used for electricity generation.
- Residential projects that are exclusively designated as affordable housing.
- Projects involving pre-K-12 schools, including but not limited to projects in Schools Development Authority districts, and projects involving higher education facilities.
- Projects already underway involving individual single-family homes, or an individual apartment unit where an individual already resides, with a construction crew of 5 or fewer individuals. This includes additions to single-family homes such as solar panels.
- Projects already underway involving a residential unit for which a tenant or buyer has already entered into a legally binding agreement to occupy the unit by a certain date, and construction is necessary to ensure the unit’s availability by that date.
- Projects involving facilities at which any one or more of the following takes place: the manufacture, distribution, storage, or servicing of goods or products that are sold by online retail businesses or essential retail businesses, as defined by Executive Order No. 107 (2020) and subsequent Administrative Orders adopted pursuant to that Order.
- Projects involving data centers or facilities that are critical to a business’s ability to function.
- Projects necessary for the delivery of essential social services, including homeless shelters.
- Any project necessary to support law enforcement agencies or first responder units in their response to the COVID-19 emergency.
- Any project that is ordered or contracted for by Federal, State, county, or municipal government, or any project that must be completed to meet a deadline established by the Federal government.
- Any work on a non-essential construction project that is required to physically secure the site of the project, ensure the structural integrity of any buildings on the site, abate any hazards that would exist on the site if the construction were to remain in its current condition, remediate a site, or otherwise ensure that the site and any buildings therein are appropriately protected and safe during the suspension of the project.
- Any emergency repairs necessary to ensure the health and safety of residents.