CHELAN — Slidewaters will close for the season Monday, ending a 30-day run in defiance of restrictions accompanying the state's COVID-19 pandemic.
The Chelan water park on Thursday received a "Notice of Immediate Restraint" from the state Department of Labor & Industries, along with $9,639 citation for the "willful" violation of state's Safe Start rules. Those rules would allow it to open in Phase 3 of the restart plan. Chelan County currently is operating under a modified Phase 1.
"We have no choice but to layoff our 150 employees and suspend our season effective Monday," co-owners Burke and Robert Bordner said in a news release sent Friday. "This is because of extraordinary and unfair harm and suffering being brought upon us from the actions of Governor Jay Inslee and the Department of Labor and Industries."
The park will continue to operate through the weekend under its "Clean & Safe Plan" at 50% capacity, they said. That plan was approved by the Chelan-Douglas Health District as meeting operational requirements once the county reached Phase 3. Confusion about the approval paperwork led to Slidewaters moving forward with plans to open. A clarification from the health district followed, but Slidewaters continued to operate as it had planned.
Its operation was confirmed by inspectors from the state Department of Labor & Industries. The details were provided in the department's press release, along with the department's notifications to Slidewaters that it was operating illegally and outlining the consequences.
Continuing to operate past Monday, the L&I deadline to cease operations, the Bordners said, "will compromise our legal battle as law-abiding citizens, expose us to more crippling fines and create the possibility of criminal charges that would potentially include imprisonment."
Represented by the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based nonprofit anti-regulatory group, Slidewaters filed lawsuit seeking a 14-day temporary restraining order in June to prevent fines being imposed if the park opened against state rules. That order was denied in Chelan County Superior Court. A request for a temporary injunction filed in U.S. District Court also was denied this past week. The Freedom Foundation, on behalf of Slidewaters, is appealing the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Inslee mentioned the water park during a press conference Thursday, saying the business would face penalties for non-compliance. He cited a federal judge's dismissal of a request for an injunction against his COVID-19 emergency order closing businesses and said it validated his authority.
“This is great news for the state of Washington, because it allows the state to continue to protect that which is most precious to us, which is the health and safety of Washingtonians,” Inslee said.
The state has not lost any lawsuits against it for the actions it has taken during the pandemic so far, he said.
Robert Bordner said he wants people to know that the legal fight is not over.
"(The governor) made it sound like there was finality to this issue, but we've appealed and the legal process is still continuing on multiple fronts," he said.
He said the state is being hypocritical in how it applies its orders with state parks brimming with people on weekends, disobeying social distancing guidelines. Meanwhile, businesses cannot operate at limited capacity with safety features in place.
"After operating for 30 days and seeing all our team members remain healthy, with no contact tracing of the virus back to us from any guests, now more than ever we stand behind our Clean & Safe Plan," the Bordners said in Friday's press release. "For four weeks we have offered a safe place for families to escape the stress of 2020 and live, laugh and enjoy life again. It is with tremendous sadness that we face the reality that after 38 years of offering a place for family recreation, Sunday could be our last operational day ever."
World reporter Nevonne McDaniels contributed to this story.