Gov. Mills E. Godwin removed today all of the week-old limits on the number of hours that retail businesses and services can be open in Virginia, but continued heating restrictions on businesses using natural gas and fuel oil.
To protect fuel supplies Godwin said all businesses using gas, oil and kerosene must set thermostats at a maximum of 65 degrees for 40 hours of the week. For periods during which they are open beyond the 40-hour limit, thermostats must be set at "plant protection" levels.
The plant protection level is the minimum temperature required to keep water pipes from freezing or prevent damage to property and stocks. For many stores it can be as low as 40 degrees.
There are no heat restrictions on businesses heated by electricity.
As a result of the governor's new order, effective at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, most large Northern Virginia stores and shopping centers announced plans to open on a normal schedule either Sunday or Monday. (See listing, Page B2).
Enforcement of the remaining restrictions continues to be the job of regular law officers and the commonwealth's authority of each city and county. Both Godwin and Attorney General Anthony F. Troy have praised the level of voluntary compliance. "The cooperation of the people of Virginia has been equal to that of a war-time crisis," Godwin said today, "and without that spirit and desire to help our neighbors, we would have been in much greater distress."
The relaxation of fuel rationing imposed on retailers by the governor's order, which is effective for a week is expected by state officials to forestall another sharp rise in unemployment caused by prolonged cold and fuel shortages.
The Virginia Employment Commission said 10,175 applications for unemployment benefits were filed last week by persons laid off because of weather or fuel restrictions. Applications for all reasons had been running at about 8,000 per week.
William F. Mezger, assistant director of the VEC, said in an interview that a sampling of jobless benefit applications through Thursday showed that only about 15 per cent were from persons laid off by fuel-rationed retailers.
However, he said, "We were expecting the applications from retail employees to start coming in next week. We did some checking with retailers in the Richmond area and found that most were holding back from layoffs of full time employees until they could get some idea about how long the opening restriction would last."
Most of the weather related unemployment applications of the last three weeks - about 14,000 - have come from workers in industries that depend on natural gas to operate, Mezger said. Industrial gas supplies have been sharply curtailed to protect reserves for heating homes.
Applications do not reflect the total unemployed, he said, because of the lag between layoffs and benefit requests and because employees who have worked less than six months are not eligible for benefits. In addition to layoffs, the cold and fuel restrictions are believed to have reduced working hours and paychecks of part-time employees.
Large retail complexes such as Landmark Shopping Mall in Alexandria have reported business declines of as much as 50 per cent during the period of hour limitations.
All these economic factors are expected to contribute to Virginias protracted state revenue shortfalls, but Godwin said in a press conference yesterday that he hopes the tax collection loss will not exceed "several million dollars."
Because of economic impact of Godwin's rationing orders and the fact that they were much more strict than those imposed in other states, legislators and businesses increasingly began to question their need last week.
Northern Virginians complained that although they shared common fuel oil and natural gas supplies with Maryland and District of Columbia residents of the Washington area, they were being asked to bear an unequal burden in conserving those supplies.
One Northern Virginia legislator, however, strongly supported retailer restrictions, Sen. Charles L. Waddell (D-Loudoun), a champion of conservationist causes, released letters to Godwin calling on him to extend the closings past the original termination date of Feb. 13 and asking him to limit illuminated advertising. He also encouraged Godwin to seek greater restrictions in Washington and Maryland.
Other legislators sought an explanation of the need for the restrictions. Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria) and Del. Raymond E. Vickery (D-Fairfax) asked for legislative review of the orders. Sen. Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax), Senate majority leader, met with Godwin Friday morning and then told the Senate that he believed the governor would revise his order.
Godwin did so yesterday afternoon by removing, effective Sunday, all restrictions on electricity. Utility officials said throughout the week that there was adequate generating capacity and adequate supplies of generating plant fuels - mostly coal and nuclear fuel - to meet foreseeable demand.
Godwin also lifted restrictions on 24-hour truck stops whose primary business is selling diesel fuel, but he left unresolved the question of extended openings by oil and gas heated businesses at reduced temperatures until today.
In addition to the relaxation of restrictions imposed by the governor, the State Corporation Commission, which regulates gas supplies, agreed Friday to permit the reopening of 49 gas heated schools in Northern Virginia.
However, both Godwin and the SCC stressed that the availability of both gas and fuel oil remains imperiled by the long winter. Their warning was underscored today by the arrival of another severe cold front that dropped temperatures to the teens in the Washington area and throughout Virginia. The weather is expected to remain abnormally coold through the early part of the week.