Kittitas County says WSDOT refused help for clearing snow over lack of vaccine mandate

Jan 12, 2022, 4:17 PM | Updated: Jan 14, 2022, 9:43 am
Kittitas County snow, COVID vaccine mandate...
Crews clearing snow at Snoqualmie Pass in January of 2022. (WSDOT)

Kittitas County leaders revealed Wednesday that the Washington State Department of Transportation refused assistance to clear snow from roadways in the region over the county’s lack of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its workers.

WSDOT head tells legislature vaccine mandate had no impact on recent pass closures

According to a press release from the county, the state’s own vaccine mandate saw WSDOT terminate 48 employees who were previously tasked with “maintenance and snow removal in Kittitas County.”

Days after the arrival of significant snowfall in early January, Kittitas County’s Department of Public Works says it “offered assistance [to WSDOT] to clear State roadways,” and that its offer was refused “due to Kittitas County not mandating the COVID-19 vaccination for County employees.”

County leaders were critical of WSDOT’s decision in statements sent out this week.

“During these times, we need to be able to put differences aside and work to support one another,” County Commissioner Laura Osiadacz said. “It needs to be neighbors helping neighbors and lending a hand to get the work done.”

“This county is ready, as always, to put all hands on deck to solve this problem,” County Commissioner Cory Wright added. “It’s time for logic and leadership to overcome ideology and allow skilled equipment operators working alone in their cabs to get this job done.”

Earlier in the week, WSDOT head Roger Millar told state lawmakers that Washington’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers did not impact efforts to clear snow out of mountain passes (including Snoqualmie Pass, which is located along the county line between Kittitas and King counties).

In a statement posted to Twitter on Wednesday, WSDOT provided additional details, describing how Kittitas Public Works had “reached out about clearing State Route 903 near the small town of Ronald in unincorporated Kittitas County.”

“County crews informed WSDOT that they could not meet the vaccination declaration required of all interlocal agreements and contracts with Washington state agencies,” the statement reads. “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.”

The contractor hired by WSDOT is providing additional dump trucks, excavators, and bulldozers.

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Kittitas County says WSDOT refused help for clearing snow over lack of vaccine mandate