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Cowlitz County commission clarifies, extends emergency declaration

Cowlitz County commission clarifies, extends emergency declaration


In a 2-1 vote Tuesday, the Cowlitz County commissioners extended the county’s coronavirus emergency declaration but clarified it is not the same measure that restricts businesses activity.

“It has really nothing to do with the governor’s orders on the shutdown and closure of businesses,” Commissioner Joe Gardner said.

Gardner said the declaration allows local businesses to access federal grants and outlines a procurement process for personal protective equipment.

Three citizens spoke against extending the emergency. One man said even if the funds are coming from the federal government, it’s still taxpayer money.

Commissioners Dennis Weber and Gardner approved the measure, with Commissioner Arne Mortensen opposed.

Mortensen said while he understands the practicalities of extending the declaration, he criticized it as “just a mechanism to deal with bureaucracy.”

Dave LaFave, Cowlitz COVID-19 Incident Management Team commander, said there’s been confusion over the local emergency declaration and the governor’s proclamations tied to the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.

The county’s emergency declaration, first approved March 4, provides for contact tracing support for the health department, acquiring personal protective equipment for first responders and healthcare workers, and providing public information and education, LaFave said. The governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order restricts certain businesses and other activities .

Commissioner Dennis Weber said the commissioners have been pointing out inconsistencies in the governor’s order as it applies to more rural areas, including signing onto a letter last week with 18 other counties asking the governor to allow businesses to reopen sooner.

Mortensen proposed a motion resuming business within Cowlitz County and allowing cities to decide what to do.

“I know businesses have to operate under their own sense of caution. We currently can’t stop the state from removing a business license, which is not different now than before,” he said. “I’m suggesting they decide what those (risks) are and whether they can live with them. We don’t have the authority to tell them otherwise.”

Gardner said since the county didn’t put the stay-at-home order in place, the commission doesn’t have the authority to provide a “permission slip” to businesses allowing them to reopen.

Weber said it’s “irrelevant” to pass a motion on the matter because the county doesn’t have the legal authority or power to make or take away the restrictions.

Businesses can make decisions based on the information that’s been shared by the county and state, Gardner said.

“We’re not telling businesses to open and we’re not telling them not to open,” he said. “But I want those to be aware and have no surprises if there’s some action at the state level.”

The state Attorney General’s Office Tuesday filed consumer protection lawsuits against two gyms in Puyallup and Arlington accused of violating the governor’s stay-at-home order. Both business owners received multiple warnings, according to the office (more information is available online at

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