AUSTIN, Texas — Wednesday saw the first full day of Austin's "Stay Home, Work Safe" order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In Austin's order, it defines "critical infrastructure" as all public and private facilities and assets, including both physical and cyber systems, and other functions and sectors vital to the security, governance, public health, safety and economic continuity of the City of Austin.
Construction is listed under that, but only certain types of construction, according to a guidance memo from the City to those in the construction industry.
According to the memo, the order provides that "some types" of construction activities are critical infrastructure.
The memo said that, in general, commercial and residential construction activities are prohibited under the order except in very limited situations where the construction involves one of the specific types of essential and critical facilities.
Those facilities include:
- Public works construction projects
- Affordable housing projects
- Construction of facilities for individuals experiencing homelessness
- construction of facilities that provide social services
- construction of facilities that are defined in the order as essential businesses, essential government functions, or critical infrastructure
- Construction of facilities specifically required by the City in response to the current COVID-19 emergency.
The City of Austin has put in place an administrative process for approving construction that meets the criteria given in the order. Under this process, a project can be declared an essential activity, critical infrastructure, essential business or affordable housing project. Projects of these types will be allowed to continue operations during the term of the order.
A newly formed committee will review and approve requests for designation as an essential project. This committee is made up of the Director of the Development Services Department, the City’s Building Official and representatives from Law, Neighborhood Housing and Community Development, Austin Code Department, Austin Fire Department, Public Works Department and Economic Development Department.
Upon approval by the committee, a letter will be sent to the project owner that must be displayed on site. Approved projects must also comply with social distancing requirements and follow the safety measures indicated in the order.
If the project is declared non-essential, operations must cease. Those project owners will also be notified and provided time for the project to be safely shut down.
The determinations made by the committee will be final, as no appeals process has been established.
On Wednesday, it was possible you may have seen some crews working at different sites whether they were fixing things or building things.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the Alternate Public Health Authority for Austin-Travis County said, “Our concern was the interior construction when construction workers could be in groups in tight spaces in close quarters. We did decide that the infrastructure such as building roads and some of those city construction projects did not pose a significant risk to the construction workers because they’re very well-spaced out so they’re not in close confines.”
Crews were out at Austin FC's stadium in North Austin continuing construction on Wednesday.
Partner with Armbrust and Brown and the attorney for that project, Richard Suttle, Jr. told KVUE in a statement:
“The health and safety of our workers and our community is of the utmost importance. The order and the guidance memo provide for construction to continue in various situations. We continue to evaluate the situation.”
KVUE also reached out to the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin. Their CEO, Carrie Ciliberto, told KVUE in a statement:
"Food and shelter are essential to human wellbeing. As such, we are disappointed, to say the least, that home construction was not considered an essential service. Many of our members, as well as the broad range of companies that do business with them, will be severely impacted. The apparent and unintended consequences will reverberate throughout our community well beyond the expiration of the current order. However, as always, we will continue to work with the City to help ensure Austinites have access to safe shelter."
On Tuesday, March 31, the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin sent a letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt asking the city and county to include all home building as an essential service, citing guidelines from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency that designate construction as "essential critical infrastructure."
Hays County allows all construction to occur under their stay-at-home order, though there are recommendations that the general contractor ensures a site has a "single trade" present at one time, in order to promote social distancing and compliance with CDC recommendations.
Their stay at home order can be found below.
Under the Williamson County order, all construction is allowed. You will find this on section 10(g)4 which states residential, transportation and commercial construction are essential businesses.
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