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U.S. National Whitewater Center wins needed permits to reopen its channels

U.S. National Whitewater Center rafting channels.
U.S. National Whitewater Center rafting channels.

Charlotte’s U.S. National Whitewater Center has won the needed permits to open its recreational rafting channels, but will be denied the use of two structures built on site without permits.

The rafting channels have been closed since last summer, when a teen from Ohio died from an infection linked to the water.

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena R. Diorio says the center has installed the necessary treatment system for the rapids, and county inspectors were on-site Tuesday morning to make sure everything was in order and working properly.

“I also want you to be aware that the USNWC constructed two structures on permanent foundations out at the site without pulling the required building permits,” she said in a statement released Tuesday.

“Today they were a issued a Notice of Violation. They have 30 days to fix the problem. Since the violation has nothing to do with the treatment system it will not impact the issuance of the permit for operation of the Center.”

Center officials were told late last week that the site can’t reopen for whitewater sports until Mecklenburg County issues a newly required permit. The center had apparently planned to start the year’s whitewater activities last Saturday, according to its website calendar that scheduled a “water release” starting at 11 a.m.

But county officials say the center only applied for a permit – a new requirement after the visitor’s death, effective Jan. 1 – on Feb. 23. The county said it will review the application and inspect the whitewater center before issuing the permit.

The center was the only one of only three similar facilities in the U.S. that wasn’t regulated to protect the public from waterborne diseases, the Observer reported after the death last June of Ohio visitor Lauren Seitz.

Seitz, 18, died of a rare brain infection caused by a single-celled animal, the amoeba Naegleria fowleri, after visiting the center on June 8. The amoeba is widespread in warm, open waters. Infections are very rare – only 35 infections were reported in the U.S. between 2005 and 2014 – but nearly always fatal.

The center closed its man-made whitewater channels in June as public health officials investigated. It reopened on Aug. 10 with an upgraded sanitation system.

In October, Mecklenburg County commissioners required an annual operating permit from the county health department that can be suspended if the center doesn’t meet water-quality or safety standards.

Water has to be tested daily. The rule also gives the health director the ability to declare conditions a public nuisance, which could trigger its shutdown.