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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Slidewaters in Chelan closes after failing to get state permission to operate

Slidewaters in Chelan has closed for the season after a battle with the state, including an unsuccessful court battle to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Don Seabrook/Wenatchee World)
By Thomas Clouse The Spokesman-Review

A water park in Chelan that continued to openly violate state orders and received a hefty fine has apparently given up its legal battle and will close for the rest of the 2020 season.

Slidewaters Waterpark owners Burke and Robert Bordner issued a news release earlier this week complaining about state officials who they claimed refused to work with them to come up with an alternative that would have allowed them to partially open their business.

“Since having to close our business and lay off our 150 employees, our fight for our constitutional right to operate our business has hit the brick wall of an obtuse and over-bearing state government that is unwilling to open a dialogue with us about reasonable and responsible ways to run our waterpark,” Burke and Robert Bordner wrote in a news release.

The Bordners, however, said they worked with a Chelan County commissioner and the Chelan-Douglas Health District medical director and came up with three possible ways to open and obtained local permission for each one. They could not get approval from the Washington State Department of Health, however, which denied their requests, they said.

“Because Governor Jay Inslee and the COVID Management team show no signs of altering their stance of ‘You can’t operate because we said you can’t,’ we are forced to announce that we will not have any more operational days in the 2020 season,” the Bordners wrote.

But Slidewaters turned out to be one of only a few businesses in Washington that prompted state officials to both fine and give them formal written notice of closure for multiple violations, said Tim Church, spokesman for Washington state Labor and Industries.

“We received a number of complaints about this water park because people in the community saw them open when it was clear under the phased-in opening that they should not be,” Church said. “Our process then, at that point, is to try to verify if that’s true and then contact the business to let them know what the law says and make sure they are informed about what is required. That’s what we did numerous times.”

Church said the water park ignored the multiple contacts with state officials and continued to remain open. The issue was forwarded to the agency’s division of Occupational Safety and Health to conduct formal safety inspection.

When inspectors arrived, the business would not allow them inside.

“We were forced to do our observation from the parking area,” Church said. “But I can tell you that it was clear from our people in the parking area that it was open for business. It looked like what you would expect an operating water park would look like. We could also hear what was going on inside.”

At that point, state regulators fined the Bodners nearly $10,000 and on July 16 issued what’s called a notice of immediate restraint.

“That means, we went to the site and said, ‘We are issuing this order to you because what you are doing is determined to be unsafe and you need to immediately stop it,’ ” Church said.

The Bodners, in their news release, wrote that they had proposed operating at 30% capacity, with tickets sold for specific days.

Another option included hosting private parties of fewer than 200 guests, and a third option proposed a schedule-based operation with no more than 50 customers at a time.

“After shutting down in order to avoid prosecution … we immediately reapplied for approval as a park – just like the local government run parks have been doing since late May,” the Bordners wrote. “We received no response.”

The owners renamed the business Lakeside Surf and sought approval to operate with a schedule-based surfing similar to other pool facilities that scheduled swim lessons. They also obtained help on the applications from state Rep. Mike Steele, R-Chelan.

“But both were denied on the basis that they were not approved in Governor Inslee’s Safe Start Plan,” the Bordners wrote.

Mike Faulk, deputy communications director for Inslee’s office, said Slidewaters was shut down only after multiple contacts from state officials.

“They were contacted repeatedly and they sued the state,” Faulk said. “Their lawsuit wasn’t dismissed by the governor’s office, it was dismissed by the courts.”

Part of the problem with the water park is the very nature of the business.

“There are a lot of people moving, so there’s a lot more potential for interactions,” Faulk said.

He noted many businesses have been forced to make tough choices during the pandemic.

“We are not happy to see this happen to any business,” Faulk said. “But we do stand by the public health need, and we have had a very open dialogue with a lot of different businesses and industries about how we can let them continue to operate in the era of COVID.”

The Bodners, who could not be reached for comment this week, wrote that they have shifted to seeking approval to operate a food-and-beverage-only operation for “the survival of our business. Having generated less than 20 percent of our expected 2020 revenue, we are facing a very difficult path to get to Memorial Day 2021,” they wrote, “but we are confident it is a possibility.”

The owners have said they have relied on an outpouring of local support, GoFundMe donors and employees to keep them “emotionally sustained.” They are also asking customers, who purchased tickets in advance, to be patient with them as they work on solutions.

“We know that we are just one of the millions of stories for this extremely challenging year,” the Bordners wrote in part.

“It will require citizens willing to stand up and share how the overreaching, tyrannical actions of Big Government are destroying the lives of the citizens they claim to be helping.”

Church denied the state singled out Slidewaters for anything other than its open violation of the state orders.

“Fining and citing is really the last option,” Church said. “Our goal is to make sure businesses are doing what is right and required under the law. In most cases, businesses that we found to be violating the safe-start order have taken that information and chose to do what is required.”