RAWLINS — As scores of contract workers flock to Carbon County to help build several major energy projects, questions have emerged over whether the influx is a good idea amid the spread of COVID-19.
“There’s an overrun of employees right now coming in to do wind energy projects, power lines…,” Carbon County Commission Chairman John Johnson said during a Tuesday meeting. He was speaking to local public health nurse manager Amanda Brown. “Do you have concerns with that many people coming into a small town of Medicine Bow and Hanna, that we’re opening the doors up for more potential positive tests for coronavirus?”
This year alone Carbon County is slated to see a substantial step up in production. This pertains to a handful of multibillion-dollar wind farms and transmission lines, some which slated for a 2020 construction completion, some of which backed by energy tycoons Warren Buffett and Philip Anschutz.
Officially estimated peak workforces combined show that the county will brace for an influx of thousands of temporary workers, many of whom from out of state.
“These people are coming from all over the country,” Brown said. “And we don’t know the extent of what they can be bringing into our community.”
But amid tightening limitations on certain businesses and industries recently decried by Gov. Mark Gordon and subsequently implemented by the county, there’s still no official statement made by the state regarding contract workers.
And although there is no legally-binding regulation so far received by the state, Brown said many of these big companies likely already have in place set procedures to combat coronavirus.
Brown also proposed, after speaking with County Health Officer Dr. Archie P. Kirsch, that one precaution the county could possibly take is having incoming workers self-quarantine for 14 consecutive days prior to starting work. And if they can’t do that, “they can wear a mask.”
County fire warden John Rutherford said, however, that despite local officials already having given various companies the OK over their project safety plans, "COVID-19 wasn’t part of this."
“So none of their current safety plans, unless they’ve adopted them, are including this,” Rutherford said. “And it would be prudent for their companies to be screening their employees, especially these employees that are coming out of state, which I think a large percentage of them are.”
Commissioner Travis Moore also questioned whether companies are actually implementing certain in-house regulations to combat coronavirus.
“Where the rubber really meets the road is how the day-to-day workers – the boots on the ground – are following this,” he said. “Are they doing briefings? How is this information being communicated and are people being held responsible?
Frustration with communication between federal agencies and the state was also expressed. Moore said he “doesn’t even know where to start to talk to somebody” when it comes to impending regulation.
In response, Johnson would eventually ask county attorney Ashley Davis if the county possessed enough executive power to delay every project. Davis, however, said the county can make a delay request but that they don’t have enough authority to anything beyond that.
Johnson also suggested that county leaders meet with project companies in parts of the county to discuss how exactly they’re regulating and enforcing worker safety amid novel coronavirus.
Commissioner Sue Jones said, however, Johnson’s idea should be acted upon quickly, since contractors are already “coming in daily.”
“There were several (workers) last week, and more coming this week,” She said. “And there’s more than one contractor out there, and in more than one location.”