On April 23, Governor Wolf announced that “All businesses in the construction industry in the commonwealth are permitted to resume in-person operations starting Friday, May 1 – one week earlier than previously announced.” That statement by the Governor supersedes the various restrictions on “non-life-sustaining business” and the waivers that have been issued to Sunoco for some work on the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system).
The Governor’s statement goes on to describe the requirements that must be followed at construction sites, such as wearing of face masks, social distancing, availability of hand-washing, and so on.
Under the Governor’s order, it would appear that Sunoco could resume all work, and not just at sites that were granted waivers to the “non-life-sustaining business” restrictions.
Local authority for “more stringent requirements.” In the same statement, however, the Governor said, “Local governments may elect to impose more stringent requirements than those contained in the guidance and in such instances, businesses must adhere to those more stringent requirements.” This sentence gives local townships, boroughs, and counties the authority to impose their own restrictions on construction work. In effect, the Governor has said, “Pennsylvania is giving construction companies permission do whatever work they want, but local governments have the authority to overrule that permission.”
If there ever was a case where that authority should be applied, it is Mariner East. Sunoco has already been permitted to continue much of its pipeline work during the Covid-19 pandemic, even while ordinary citizens must observe a stay-at-home rule. This situation has created a major, and unnecessary, public-health risk. The predominantly out-of-state pipeline workers live together, eat together, meet together, travel to work sites together, and shop in our stores. They are supposed to wear masks and observe social-distancing rules, but they are frequently seen flouting those rules. They are likely to accelerate the spread of Covid-19, and they may already have done so.
We may be in the “Red Phase” for months. Under Wolf’s three-stage “reopening” plan, some parts of the state will be able to begin the reopening process (shifting from the current “Red” stage to the less restrictive “Yellow” stage) within a few weeks. But that is not true for our hard-hit Southeastern region, which will likely remain “Red” for months to come.
The rate of Covid-19 infection in our 8-county region is several times higher than the threshold to shift to the “Yellow” phase. A given region must have a rate of fewer than 50 new cases during a 14-day period per 100,000 residents to move to “Yellow”. By my estimate, the rate in our region is currently over 250 new cases per 100,000 residents.
While the stay-at-home order is in place, work on the Mariner East pipeline should not be permitted.
Tell your county council and your local elected officials to shut down Mariner East work until the Governor’s “Red” phase ends in our region. It is foolhardy to allow Covid-19 to spread by letting Mariner East construction resume.