Chilmark first to consider construction ban

Selectmen postpone town meeting and town election.

Construction continued at the new beach at North Bluff today, as Island officials consider a potential ban. - Jamie Kageleiry

Updated 5:30 pm

Chilmark and other Island towns are considering a construction ban in order to limit potential exposure to the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

“For me, this is the most troubling decision to make,” selectmen chair Warren Doty said during a meeting Thursday. “The idea that we are going to stop guys who are at work banging nails from working here — I’m not saying I don’t support it, but this decision hurts everyone in the community.”

Doty wondered whether certain exceptions to the moratorium could be made for smaller groups of workers that wouldn’t be working in close quarters. “I understand 22 people working together in a house, but there are also two people shingling a roof,” Doty said. “I would like to discuss this further with town counsel, but I would like to explore possible exceptions.”

According to selectman Jim Malkin, the boards of health in several Island towns are considering including a halt to construction in their emergency declaration. “I don’t know the details of when that will take place, but it is to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within the community,” Malkin said. 

Malkin notified the board that Nantucket recently issued an emergency moratorium on construction until April 6. Aside from emergency utility or building work, such as repairs to healthcare facilities and shelters, Malkin said all other construction would be banned. “We don’t know how town counsel will draft this thing, but I think it would be best to support this concept,” Malkin said. 

Malkin made a motion to endorse the concept of a moratorium on construction that was unanimously passed, and he said the board should make a final decision after they review the draft produced by town counsel.

Selectmen decided at a meeting Friday that they would continue the discussion on whether or not to enact the ban at 4:30 pm on Saturday, and most likely make a decision then.

Edgartown board of health agent Matt Poole said the moratorium is a work in progress, although no towns have officially adopted it. “Based on initial research that Ron Rappaport [town counsel] had done, it was determined that the boards of health and the selectmen can vote to stop building and other construction permits,” Poole said.

Poole’s initial concern over ongoing construction was job site exposures. He said there are more projects underway in Edgartown than he has ever seen, and he worries about the close proximity of workers, especially in a small, enclosed space. “There can be three or four trades, all working simultaneously in a confined space. You can have HVAC, carpenters, painters, and sheetrockers all together in one space,” Poole said.

Poole said he is also concerned about some of the living conditions of tradesmen on the Island, and what those conditions might mean for the spread of disease. “We have the best workers in the workforce living in less than ideal housing situations,” Poole said. “If you end up with congregate living in what’s supposed to be a single-family dwelling, this is going to get really out of control.”

Many of these dwellings, according to Poole, are tight spaces with six to eight occupants sharing a one and a half bath, creating a huge possibility for the transmission of diseases.

“I understand this will have a huge impact on personal income, but if we don’t take this measure today, I think we will look back and wonder why we didn’t take this step,” Poole said. “There’s no time to wait, this is a freight train coming at us.”

Selectmen postponed town meeting and the local election until May 26. At that point, the town moderator can postpone that meeting for 30 days if need be, Doty said.

Town elections are slated to occur on Thursday, May 28.

In other business, Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren said call volume Islandwide is down, and the diminishing amount of traffic allows officers to limit personal interactions with the public.

“Everyone is healthy on-staff, and we are operating at full staff while covering the amount of hours we normally would this time of year,” Klaren said.

Klaren said his biggest concern during the outbreak is, that with only five full-time officers, if some or all of those officers end up in quarantine, “we are done, or pretty close to it.” “We are in a holding pattern while also preparing for tomorrow,” Klaren said.

Malkin, who also represents the Vineyard on the Steamship Authority (SSA) board as its chairman, said they are unable to keep people separate on the boats, despite ongoing attempts to suggest social distancing. “We can only make suggestions, and we are using signs, messages, and verbal statements. But there are people who congregate on the ferries, and we cannot legally stop them,” Malkin said.

Updated to include meeting from Friday. – ed.


  1. This is all so crazy….we might all end up on poverty line if they shut down the island. I personally like having a house and car, I really don’t want to have to give it back to the bank because I can’t work.

    • This is a horrible time for everyone. Yes, many Americans will go broke and be unable to meet their basic expenses. Islanders get no exemptions and are no different from all other Americans who are in the same boat of financial ruin after being told not to come to work. Everyone has to participate to flatten the curve. Everyone. The treasury secretary has warned that the unemployment level could be 20%. Large jobs or small jobs don’t matter. Everyone must keep separate from other people. Essential workers only are exempt. Construction is not essential. Everyone in the community is hurt. Everyone.

  2. I with Warren on this. I understand the large jobs where there may be 15 or 20 guys. But I work with three other guys and we do pretty everything except the mechanicals ourselves. Why can’t we continue to work?

  3. A total construction ban would do more harm than good. Why not apply the social distancing that seems to be appropriate elsewhere? Just stay 6 feet away from other people. Common sense should prevail here.

  4. It’s hard to believe that this is even being talked about much less considered. Most construction crews have a small handful of workers that typically don’t work anywhere near each other. Yes, there are larger crews. They can be instructed to keep their distance from each other and to limit the number of workers in any one area. Simple. Subs can also be instructed to work one at a time. Better to have a day or two off while a plumber finishes up a job, then to shut down the whole construction industry on the island because someone might be working in the same space at the same time. Construction workers don’t want to get sick either. I would guess that some of the displaced workers from restaurants wouldn’t mind some part-time work cleaning up a job site, raking leaves, doing a little painting etc. until they can get back to work. The lumber yards already have it figured out. You put your order in, they leave it out by the road, you come pick it up. Or they deliver and you unload the truck. Simple. Do we need to be careful? Yes! Do we need to exercise some common sense? Yes to that to.

  5. ^^^ you both embody what is wrong with our country. Putting yourself before the greater good of the community. This is going to put a strain on most of us, but what will strain us more is not following flattening the curve of the virus. You’ll be back up and running sooner if we all adhere to this.

    • Agree 100%, Sonoto. I can’t believe what I am reading here from those who think they don’t have to stay home/stay away from all people, unless what they do is absolutely essential to the community.

  6. As a contractor I don’t know how you can regulate job sites
    I am all for being safe and controlling the spread of the virus, BUT
    People have to work to live and eat and take care of their families.
    Any town stepping beyond their respective boundaries would be subjective to lawsuits…. quickly
    Sure, you can control larger projects, but leave the little guys alone
    We have the ability to self regulate
    BTW the steamship is already seeing a reduction in the normal workforce commuters
    I see it firsthand, leave the job site police out of this

    • Shocking selfishness from the construction crew here. Why should everyone but you do your part? Why should everyone else sacrifice and pay a dear price for the good of all, and not you? Outrageous!

  7. Sonotoholenko…did I get that right? People afraid they cannot buy food and will lose everything that they struggle day to day to hang on to are NOT what is wrong with our country by a long shot.

  8. I wouldn’t say that offering some out-of-work people some extra part time work is putting your needs before others.. But, for the ones that feel that “I’m suffering so everyone else should suffer too”…it probably sounds like a terrible idea.

  9. Maybe the construction crew here isn’t educated enough about how contagious and deadly this virus is. Or maybe they think they are immune.

    • Jackie,you’ve said a lot of things I’ve agreed with over time. And also a lot of things I’ve found offensive. This comment right here could be the most offensive of all.
      I can only assume you have zero friends who work in the trades to make a comment like that.

      • What’s dangerous is thinking everyone does not have to stay home, including construction workers. If that offends you, #getoverit. But stay home anyway.

        • Also, if an a-symptomatic but infected person goes alone to work at a site and touches something plastic, leaving droplets of disease that are contagious for up to nine days, and the next trades person comes in alone to paint the next day, touches the plastic and then rubs an itchy eye, he or she is infected, even though working totally alone. When this person goes home to their family whose spouse has asthma, we have a possible lethal spread. Trades people are not immune from contracting this disease, nor from unwittingly spreading it. Please don’t think that working alone at a site is any protection. You are not immune, but after reading some comments, it seems some people think they can control something no one, NO ONE, has any control over.

          • My Woody Allen friend, I also think that if someone understands how deadly and contagious this is to a hefty proportion of our community, both old and young, no one will be offended by my words. I don’t believe you understood what I meant about not being educated enough. I should have said, “not informed enough” about contagiousness, deadliness, and non-immunity. There are plenty of people I care about who work in the trades.Tough on all of us in different ways. Please stay home.

        • I’m not talking about staying home. I’m talking about your comment about Carpenters being uneducated.

          • I wondered how educated the construction crew was about how contagious and deadly the virus is and if they thought they couldn’t get it. Never said carpenters are uneducated. Read my comment again. Don’t make things up.

  10. Most construction workers have no benefits or any compensation. If they stop work they will wait in welfare lines and catch a virus there and also financially tax the system. Let people work.

  11. I work construction. If a ban goes into effect, I’ll be laid off. I fully support a ban. Even small crews come into contact with too many people to be able to work safely. Shared trucks,microwaves,small spaces,tools and materials raise the risk greatly. Just ask yourself how you would feel if someone got sick and died because you didn’t shut your site down.

  12. It makes sense to be safe and cautious. but some of us are not as lucky as certain condescending commenters. Some of us work hard, try to do the right thing. Some of us do not have the safety net of a trust fund or unemployment insurance if you are your own boss and own your business.
    Some of us don’t have the choice of not working and watching the news all-day.
    We have families that rely on us.

  13. As someone in the construction business, I resent Jackie’s comment about the education levels of people in our industry. All of my friends who are in the business are deeply concerned about their crews, subcontractors and families. Anyone who doesn’t have a huge nest egg is looking at financial hardship coming down the pipe. There are definitely plenty of people out there with a me first attitude but they are not unique to the building trades. Let’s try not to insult each other during this trying time.

    • Please don’t misconstrue what I said. I questioned whether the workers who object to a ban on construction are educated enough ABOUT THE VIRUS. Construction workers are no different than the millions of Americans without trust funds or nest eggs who are now not working, as we all try to flatten the outbreak curve. Do all other island non-essential workers, not in construction, who now have zero income, have a lesser need to eat, pay rent, care for their children? It’s a terrible time, let’s not any of us prolong it or make it worse by not following the directions of what the science and experts are telling us. One infected but a-symptomatic person, going to non-essential work and leaving infected droplets at a worksite, can have a devastating effect on the whole island and our limited medical resources. There’s nothing to argue about when you think of all the immune suppressed people you probably know and love.

  14. I’m very conflicted about a ban.
    I care very much for people who work in the trades.
    I also appreciate how contagious Corona is.
    Matt Poole raises a significant point regarding construction workers who live in close quarters.
    However, whether they are working or not, they will still live in crowded conditions, prime breeding for the virus.
    There are many island contractors who work alone or with just one other person.
    Common sense should win the day here.
    Maybe we could offer online workshops to offer ways for construction crews to protect themselves as well as others?
    Limit the number of people on sites?
    Can construction workers safely practice hygienic work habits?
    I think so.
    It’s a well-known fact, construction workers have a lot of common sense because that is an integral
    and necessary skill set for the trades.
    Most of what construction workers do is based on “common sense”.
    So here we are……… I guess I would be reluctantly supportive of a short term ban if I can be convinced that the sacrifice would actually be effective in “flattening the curve”.
    Plus, I could use a vacation.
    Hmmm, where should I go for my vacation?

    • Oaks Bluff–Barbados is really nice, but I would wait a while before I traveled anywhere.
      As for flattening the curve– Limiting social interaction is an absolute necessity. I don’t think we have much choice. We have very few tools to deal with this.
      I’m not even going to hang out with some buddies and play poker. !
      Be safe

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