On Nov. 24, with temperatures in Chelan, Wash., hovering between a high of 44 degrees and a low of 25, Washington’s Department of Health finally saw fit to drop its quest to make an example of Slidewaters.
The agency agreed to a settlement, negotiated by the Freedom Foundation, under which it would drop its original order, which carried with it the threat of hefty fines and revocation of the popular water park’s water recreation operating permits (yes, the Department of Health evidently thinks you can transmit COVID-19 through the water).
In return, Slidewaters agreed to drop its appeal of that order.
The dispute began in late spring, when the facility, which opens only for the summer months and must generate enough revenue during that window to ensure it will open the following year, announced it would open in spite of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions on outdoor recreation facilities, announced by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in March.
Slidewaters, which attracts thousands of visitors every summer to the popular tourist community and employs around 150 local youngsters, created its own remediation plan, which was accepted by Chelan County health officials.
But in July, the DOH asserted authority over the situation and demanded the park be closed.
Slidewaters’ owners responded by filing a timely appeal.
The settlement announced on Nov. 24 was reached in just one of three actions pending for the park, with the Freedom Foundation representing its owners in all the cases.
Slidewaters also has ongoing appeals before the Washington State Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The settlement represents a victory for the Freedom Foundation and the park’s owners, but one that didn’t come in time to save Slidewaters’ summer season.
“This case demonstrates perfectly what’s wrong with Inslee’s COVID response,” said Freedom Foundation National Director Aaron Withe. “It applies a one-size-fits-all solution to a community that had little, if any, incidence of COVID. It ignores that people in the age group that overwhelmingly visit the park very seldom contract the virus and almost never die of it. And it disregards the opinion of local health officials — who physically inspected Slidewaters and approved its plan to keep everyone safe — in favor of a state agency doing the bidding of a governor with a vendetta.”
Withe said Inslee’s motivations in imposing his COVID edict had more to do with politics than public health, and believes the governor cracked down on Slidewaters to show other potential resistors what they could expect.
“No one’s saying COVID isn’t a problem or that we shouldn’t apply common-sense precautions to protect people from it,” Withe said. “But Inslee’s approach was like using a sledgehammer to squash a bug. Or in this case, a business and its employees who dared to stand up to his dictatorial actions.”