EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- The owner of North Pole-Santa's Workshop in Cascade is trying to reopen 22 of 26 rides that have been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. This time, he's counting on the help of county commissioners and the county health department.
On Tuesday, after a presentation by Health Department Director Susan Wheelan in support of attraction owner Tom Haggard, commissioners voted unanimously to send a variance request to state health officials.
"(Haggard) and his staff have been extremely meticulous and thoughtful around every safety measure," Wheelan said. "They are assuring the highest level of safety."
"It's been a nightmare," Haggard told commissioners.
The state denied a similar request in June. The apparent issue is whether North Pole-Santa's Workshop is an amusement park requiring tougher restrictions, or an attraction requiring fewer restrictions.
The state allows counties to apply for site-specific variances, with certain requirements, for larger venues of at least 30,000 square feet.
"But that comes with a long list of safety requirements," Wheelan said.
Commissioner Mark Waller described the situation as "confusing."
"I was recently at Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs," he said. "It has the same kind of rides as the North Pole, and lots of people there enjoying the rides. Why can rides be open there and not be open here? It seems massively inconsistent to me."
Haggard said many ski resorts have similar rides during the summer and they are allowed to operate while his aren't.
"Officially, they are all licensed amusement rides," he said. "Only my ski lift, zip line, scenic train and slide are allowed to be open. Many of my rides are kiddie rides, not 'scream' or 'thrill' rides that are more typical for amusement parks. If I can disinfect a chair lift, why can't I disinfect a kiddie boat ride? Nobody can answer that question."
Haggard said state health officials have essentially created a situation in which amusement rides can operate -- as long as they're not part of an amusement park.
Commissioner Stan VanderWerf expressed sympathy for Haggard.
"My sense of it is I don't think they've ever understood what your place actually is," the commissioner said. "I think they've got a perception of you looking like Elitch's or something like that."
There's no timetable given for when the state will respond to the variance request.
"Let's keep our fingers crossed," Waller said after the unanimous vote.