Schlitterbahn on Wednesday called for the Kansas Department of Labor to publicly retract claims that the water park operator violated state regulations while at the same time saying it won't open rides in question until concerns are fully addressed.
The Texas-based company, which has battled a flood of negative publicity in Kansas and beyond since a 10-year-old boy died on a water slide in Kansas City, Kan., in 2016, said in a letter to the Kansas Department of Labor that it overstepped its authority in issuing a critical audit on Tuesday.
The department, which regulates amusement parks, inspected the water park last week and issued a notice of violations, claiming that Schlitterbahn could not produce inspection records for rides, did not have safety signage posted and had not replaced certain parts that the manufacturer suggested needed replacement, among other findings.
The Labor Department said late Tuesday, days ahead of Schlitterbahn's planned May 25 opening for the 2018 season, that it had been in communication with the Wyandotte County District Attorney's Office about the audit's findings.
On Wednesday, the Wyandotte County district attorney said in a statement that it had been in contact with attorneys for Schlitterbahn.
"All parties agree public safety is the number one priority," Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree said in a statement. "In anticipation of the May 25th opening date, the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office is solely concerned with ensuring the safety of all 11 rides prior to their operation this summer. As such, only rides that the Wyandotte County District Attorney and Schlitterbahn agree are in compliance with applicable standards and are safe will be operated, as conditions permit."
Schlitterbahn issued a similar statement on Wednesday.
"Despite our strong disagreement with some of the issues in the report and KDOL’s audit process, we are addressing carefully each of the issues raised and expect that such issues will be rectified before the individual rides are opened to the public," Schlitterbahn's statement said.
"While these clerical and administrative issues do not generally impact guest safety, in the interest of ensuring all Schlitterbahn guests that their safety is Schlitterbahn’s highest priority, the park will not open any ride or attraction unless and until the issues raised in the report have been fully addressed."
It was not clear on Wednesday evening how the day's news would affect whether and to what extent Schlitterbahn would open on May 25.
Winter Prosapio, spokeswoman for Schlitterbahn, did not respond to messages seeking clarification.
Schlitterbahn's seven-page letter written by its lawyers requested that the agency withdraw its report by May 24. Failing that, the company indicated it would consider "seeking relief from a court of competent jurisdiction to prevent KDOL from taking further unlawful action In this matter."
The letter from lawyers representing Schlitterbahn strenuously criticized the way the Kansas Department of Labor conducted its audit.
The letter said regulators inspected the park before it was ready to open to the public and ignored the parameters of the Kansas Amusement Park Act.
"In doing so, it has created a false impression in the community and indeed, nationwide, that Schlitterbahn Waterpark is operating its Kansas City park in an unsafe manner," Schlitterbahn's letter said. "This appears to be nothing more than a malicious effort on the part of the State to stir up unfounded fear and cast doubt on this company in the wake of the tragic accident in 2016."
Caleb Schwab, son of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab, died on the 17-story Verruckt water slide on Aug. 7, 2016. He was killed when his raft went airborne and struck a metal brace supporting a net ostensibly meant to keep riders from falling out of the slide.
Since then, Kansas has amended its previously lax amusement park regulations. Earlier this year, a grand jury led by the Kansas attorney general indicted three associates of Schlitterbahn and two corporations affiliated with the company on several criminal charges associated with Caleb's death.
The indictments cast the defendants as unqualified to design a ride of Verruckt's nature and showed little concern to safety of riders and maintenance of the slide.
All criminal defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Schlitterbahn has maintained that safety is the company's top priority. Its letter to the Kansas Department of Labor said it cooperated fully with Labor Department auditors and that rides were test-run in their presence so they could observe that each functioned properly.
One of the 11 rides that were audited — the Soaring Eagle Zipline — had parts that required replacement, according to the Labor Department audit.
Schlitterbahn's letter said that a manufacturer's service bulletin extended the life of a part for another year, rendering the Labor Department's claims inaccurate.