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Nonessential contracting and home building work banned in state

Ben Jackson of Ben's General Contracting Corp. said

Ben Jackson of Ben's General Contracting Corp. said the move will hurt homeowners who are making upgrades for safety reasons. Credit: Barry Sloan

Long Island home builders and contractors said they understand the necessity of the state’s ban on nonessential construction but they worry about long-term harm to their businesses and the economy.

All nonessential construction work must stop, according to guidelines updated Friday by the state economic development agency, Empire State Development. Work on health care facilities, affordable housing, homeless shelters and infrastructure may continue, and there are exceptions for health and safety reasons. 

In addition, the guidelines state, "construction work does not include a single worker, who is the sole employee/worker on a job site."

The state can issue fines of up to $10,000 for violations.

The shutdown came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases exceeded 44,000 in the state, including 8,000 on Long Island and more than 25,000 in New York City.

“I support it for the health and well-being of everybody,” said Ben Jackson, president of Ben’s General Contracting Corp. in Freeport. But, he said, “I am concerned economically. ... This is going to devastate businesses.”

Already, Jackson said, he has reduced his workforce from 20 to nine.

The shutdown also has an impact on homeowners, he said. Jackson said he is working on two homes that are being elevated to protect them from storm damage. The homes, in Long Beach and Freeport, were damaged in 2012 by superstorm Sandy, and the owners experienced problems with previous contractors before he took over, he said.

The state’s order “leaves a lot to interpretation” about whether work can continue for safety reasons on those elevated homes, he said.

Without clear direction, he said, “I’m going to have to stop until I’m allowed to work.”

The industry is lobbying the state to grant more exceptions or adjustments to the guidelines.

Long Island’s residential construction sites do not pose the same dangers as crowded high-rise construction sites in New York City and should not be subject to the same restrictions, said Mitchell Pally, chief executive of the Long Island Builders Institute, a trade group. On sites with fewer workers and less crowded conditions, it is more feasible to adhere to health and safety rules such as keeping workers 6 feet apart, he said.

“We’re still hoping that some additional exceptions can be made,” Pally said.