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Willmar, Minn., seeks remedies to possible construction delays due to shutdown

Construction crews from TerWisscha work at the site of a new orthodontic clinic being built on 19th Avenue in Willmar. A lengthy state shutdown could delay construction because of needed inspections. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams(1 / 2
Kelly TerWisscha, CEO of TerWisscha Construction of Willmar2 / 2

WILLMAR -- The state shutdown could halt electrical and plumbing work on residential and commercial construction projects.

Contractors are unable to have electrical wiring on residential and commercial projects inspected by a state electrical inspector because the state inspectors are not working.

A contractor can actually start the electrical wiring in a building and work up until the point where the contractor would start to insulate and cover up the wiring, says Kelly TerWisscha, CEO of TerWisscha Construction of Willmar.

"That's when the (state) electrical inspector would have to be there,'' TerWisscha says. "At that point is when a project would be at a standstill on the electrical side.''

Also, commercial projects are in jeopardy because exterior and interior plumbing requires plan review by the state Health Department, but the department is closed.

TerWisscha says commercial plumbing work that has not had state plan review will be held up.

"So any project that already has their plumbing permits can proceed on without any problem on the plumbing side because the local jurisdictions do the plumbing inspections,'' he said.

TerWisscha is worried that a lengthy shutdown could increase the number of plumbing projects needing plan review, which could further delay projects.

TerWisscha's company is working on Dr. Jeremy Johnson's orthodontic clinic on 19th Avenue Southwest. TerWisscha said the project is probably three weeks away from being affected.

That's why TerWisscha is seeking the help of city officials to keep his project and other contractors' projects going. The help could come in the form of an ordinance, which the City Council could pass, that would allow a qualified electrical inspector to do the inspections.

TerWisscha spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance during a meeting Tuesday afternoon of the council's Public Works/Safety Committee. The committee voted to recommend the council introduce the ordinance next Monday night for a public hearing on Aug. 1.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said city building officials are not qualified to do electrical inspections. He talked with the League of Minnesota Cities, which had received similar inquires from other cities on how construction projects should be handled.

Anytime a new home or commercial building is constructed, the state electrical inspector is involved in that process. The inspectors do inspections during construction and do the final inspection before the city can issue a certificate of occupancy, said Schmit.

He said the city also realized that state electrical inspectors are involved in other activities such as the county fair.

In response to inquiries, League attorneys put together the ordinance, said Schmit.

"It would be up to the city to make arrangements with qualified electrical inspectors. But under state law they can't do that unless the city gives them authorization with a specific ordinance, and that's referenced in the state building code,'' he said.

On the plumbing side, local building officials can do plumbing inspections but cannot do plumbing plan review, according to state statute. Plan review is also required for municipal sewer and water projects, said Schmit.

"The best we can hope for there is to contact the commissioner of the appropriate state department that handles plan reviews for plumbing and seek a waiver during the state shutdown,'' said Schmit.

"If we don't get that waiver, there could be some serious implications for projects that are underway or scheduled to get underway,'' he said.

The committee voted to seek the waiver.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150