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Building Industry Struggles to Adapt

“Non-essential” construction projects have been banned throughout New Jersey since April 10, when Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order 122 to reduce the spread of the coronavirus went into effect. Still, due to the numerous carve-outs in the Order, many building sites in Jersey City remain active. At the same time, other projects that qualify for exceptions to the ban have been halted.  As a result, many developers and construction workers are left scratching their heads — while also doing their best to make active sites impervious to the coronavirus.

“Some of our employers and property owners are doing the best they can to figure it out —  some are going to lawyers,” said Greg LaLevee, business manager of Operating Engineers Union Local 825, whose members typically work on big construction jobs in the state including the new Rt. 7 bridge linking Jersey City and Kearny.

LaLevee mentioned a nearby project involving remediation —  one of the exceptions listed in the governor’s order —  that, he said, got shut down by local authorities. “That kind of baffled us,” he said.

Questions about who’s enforcing the order and on-site social distancing are still awaiting answers, he added. “I don’t think the full story’s been written yet. It’s going to take time to shake itself out.”

Three of the local’s 7,000 members have tested positive for the coronavirus, LaLevee said.

How vast does the shutdown appear?  Councilman James Solomon, whose Downtown ward hosts a lot of building activity, said recently, my reading of it is that most large-scale construction sites must shut down or be in the process of shutting down.” This is likely because the Order does categorize as “non-essential” residential projects with work crews greater than five and residential buildings with no units under sales contracts. But that still leaves numerous categories of construction the decree deems “essential”:

  • affordable housing projects
  • law enforcement facilities
  • buildings providing for first responders
  • federal, state, county or city government projects
  • healthcare sites
  • business data centers
  • owner-occupied apartments with work crews of five or fewer
  • social services facilities (such as including homeless shelters)
  • schools and education offices
  • utility firms
  • transportation projects
  • building-related to essential retail or online retail

Most other types of construction are deemed “non-essential.”  That said, the Order does allow for “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. It also permits “any emergency repairs necessary to ensure the health and safety of residents.”

Executive Order 122 also details policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that active construction sites must follow.

What has the city done in response to the governor’s decree? Mayoral spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said this:

“Following the Governor’s executive order, the city created an informational website for full transparency regarding all construction projects. The website includes a process for residents to file complaints, the feedback of which will be shared with the state. We are committed to protecting our residents the best we can within the parameters that have been set by Trenton.”




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