Millburn Township is keeping an eye, and a safe distance, on necessary construction
Like many offices throughout the country, the Millburn Township Building Department in New Jersey has been closed to the public since mid-March, part of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) quarantine. But business goes on for Jerry Eger, Millburn Township’s construction code official, and his staff, who rotate their time in the office to make sure they keep their required distance.
Inspectors generally are out in the field, keeping their eyes on projects already begun before the state-imposed work stoppage. “People on-site have to be wearing masks and gloves,” Eger said. “They show us their plans and drawings, stay six feet away, and we’ll let them know if they passed or what they need to fix.”
Eger knows some jurisdictions are using virtual inspections. One of his staff who had open-heart surgery actually started using it before the quarantine, just to stay safe. “But I don’t really like it,” he said of virtual inspections. “I like to look things over in person and tell the contractor what’s wrong and what he needs to fix. Some contractors we’ve been working with a long time, you can trust them. Some others, you have to keep your eye on.
And he has a lot of help from the community doing just that. “I get calls every day,” Eger said. “’Why are these guys out working?’ I have to explain to them that they are putting up walls so they can secure the building. And the material underneath can be left open only so many days.”
Eger, president of the New Jersey Building Officials Association and chairman of the Municipal Construction Officials Association of New Jersey, says he talks daily with his comrades, “to see how they’re handling things.”
While he knows many building departments have gone paperless, Eger says there are jurisdictions that just can’t afford it. “We’ve just started to do it,” he said. “We do allow people to apply for permits online. And after I do an inspection, and I put the information into my iPad, the contractor will get an email immediately telling him if he passed, or what he needs to do.”
Many times, Eger decides work on a case-by-case basis. “There was one project where someone bought a home and gutted it,” he said. “They hadn’t started the work yet and were looking for permits. They also said they were renting in the meantime and didn’t want to rent for months. I’ll allow permits in that case.”
“As a former code official in New Jersey, I’m amazed at how well Jerry and my fellow code officials are dealing with the new reality we face,” said International Code Council Government Relations Senior Regional Manager Stephen Jones, CBO, MCP. “Although there are many uncertainties, the fact remains that our code professionals are there to help the citizens of New Jersey continue to move the state forward during some very difficult times. I’m proud to be associated with this group of dedicated professionals.”
Eger, who also works part-time for several nearby communities, said he has seen some odd things as he has driven around. “Usually, the traffic around here is nuts,” he said. “But with no one on the road, my travel time is cut in half. There’s no one on the street.”
The 67-year-old building official said he’s seen a lot of viruses through the years, but nothing like this. “All the revenue towns are losing because restaurants and shops are closed; it’s going to be tough on them,” he said. “But you can’t hurt people’s health for money.”