WSDOT Refuses Kittitas County’s Offer to Help Plow Snow-Covered Roads
The Center Square
(The Center Square) – The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) turned down an offer of help from the Kittitas County Department of Public Works to plow roads during a snowstorm because the county does not mandate employee COVID-19 vaccinations.
Last week’s winter storm dumped a significant amount of snow in the county, resulting in the closure of Snoqualmie Pass for more than 90 hours and exacerbating supply chain issues east of the Cascades.
“Washington State informed Kittitas County they could not accept this assistance due to Kittitas County not mandating the COVID-19 vaccination for County employees,” a Wednesday press release from Kittitas County stated. “The Kittitas County Board of Commissioners is extremely disappointed with the States’ position to refuse assistance.”
The county offered assistance to WSDOT in cleaning up roads on Tuesday, January 11 but was subsequently denied due to lacking a vaccine mandate.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s October 18, 2021 deadline for state workers to get vaccinated resulted in WSDOT losing more than 400 employees out of a total force of more than 6,800.
According to the press release, the county “signed an interlocal agreement with the Washington State Department of Transportation. WSDOT requested this agreement based on an identified need for additional resources caused by reduced staffing.”
But instead of using Kittitas County workers, the state hired a private contractor to clear roads of snow.
“On Tuesday Jan. 11, Kittitas County Public Works reached out about clearing State Route 903 near the small town of Ronald in unincorporated Kittitas County,” WSDOT said in a statement posted to its Twitter account Wednesday night. “County crews informed WSDOT they could not meet the vaccination declaration required of all interlocal agreements and contracts with Washington state agencies since the August vaccine mandate announcement and October deadline.”
The statement went on to say, “With county crews not being an option to work on the state road, WSDOT secured a private contractor to clear the roadway with work beginning Wednesday morning, Jan. 12.”
That contractor is BKC Contracting out of Kittitas County, per the press release.
On Monday, speaking before the House Transportation Committee, Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar downplayed the loss of 151 maintenance workers to the vaccine mandate, noting WSDOT has since hired 200 people, including nine employees who got vaccinated and returned to work. He said any staffing restraints are due to pandemic-related budget constraints.