MASON, Ohio (FOX19) - Kings Island sued Thursday to reopen its amusement and water park off Interstate 71 in Warren County.
The lawsuit names Dr. Amy Acton in her official capacity as the director of the Ohio Department of Health and the Warren County Health District.
It asks a judge to order the immediately reopening of amusement parks and water parks and to prevent Acton from closing them again in the future.
Like other amusement parks and water parks throughout Ohio, Kings Island has been shut down all season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Acton’s latest health order requires them to remain closed through July 1.
Most of the state’s economy and businesses already have reopened or can soon.
Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday zoos, museums, playgrounds cinemas and other entertainment venues can reopen starting June 10 with virus precautions and attendance restrictions.
It remains unclear if state officials will allow amusement parks and water parks to reopen before July 1.
A spokesman for DeWine’s office told FOX19 NOW earlier Thursday: “The administration is still working on guidance for those facilities.”
Kings Island is not alone in turning to the courts.
A similar lawsuit also was filed late Thursday afternoon by the owners of a Sandusky water park, Kalahari Resorts & Conventions. That one names Acton in her official capacity and the Erie County General Health District.
We are seeking comment again now from DeWine’s office in light of Kings Island’s lawsuits and will update this story.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told us he wouldn’t have any comment on the Kings Island lawsuit because it was just filed and he hadn’t had a chance to review it yet.
The lawsuits were filed a few hours after Ohio House Republicans took action to try to reopen amusement parks and water parks.
“Our economic future depends on a swift reopening of these important venues which provide a constructive educational and recreational outlet for all Ohioans,” Seitz said.
An amendment reopening amusement parks and water parks is now part of House Bill 665 regarding amusement park ride safety.
The full House was not expected to vote on the amendment and House Bill 665 Thursday, but Republican lawmakers tell FOX19 NOW they will try to pass it soon if DeWine doesn’t reopen them.
It’s not clear how far that would go, however.
Republican lawmakers already tried to limit her powers before and failed.
Last month, the Ohio Senate rejected their effort to limit Acton’s ability to issue stay-at-home orders to 14 days. They could only be extended if approved by a legislative oversight committee.
DeWine also said he would veto the legislation if it reached his desk.
Cedar Fair, which owns Kings Island in Warren County and Cedar Point in Sandusky, announced on their website they hope to reopen soon.
“Cedar Fair fully supports the amendment to HB 665 that was adopted today in the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. The amendment provides for the immediate re-opening of Ohio amusement parks and water parks,” reads the statement from Richard Zimmerman, CEO of Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, which owns Kings Island and Cedar Point.
"We fully anticipate and expect having the same opportunity granted to other businesses in Ohio to operate our business in a safe and manageable environment.
"As professional amusement park operators with an exemplary safety record, we are experts at managing risks and following protocols. The protocols we have developed to reopen our parks are in accordance with governmental and CDC directives, Erie County and Warren County Health Departments, medical professionals, Ohio’s Development Services Agency (DSA) and industry best practices. They are specifically responsive to the COVID-19 crisis.
Warren County Commissioner Dave Young said he called DeWine last week and asked him to reopen Kings Island. He also told him the county just lost two huge sports tournaments to other states because they couldn’t open up their new $16 million sports complex.
“He was very empathetic to the sports loss and said he was going to work on that. He was very hesitant to reopen theme park.”
Young said their conversation was cut off at that point because DeWine had to take an incoming call from the governor of New Jersey.
Closings schools, businesses, restaurants - literally everything except grocery stores, pharmacies and banks - made sense in March before more was known about the virus and death rates.
State data shows Warren County has recorded 21 COVID-19 related deaths and 398 cases.
"I completely understand the impetus for why we shut down. I don’t blame anybody why we shut down. It was two to three million Americans are going to die from this. So what you do? You shut down.
"That was the best information at the time. But now we know a heck of a lot about COVID-19. We know who it effects. We explicitly know that it’s statistically a very, very small number of deaths globally for people under 45. When we look at Warren County, our number one industry is tourism. I want to say I love Mike DeWine, but I have to disagree with him on this one. I
“When they say 90- 95% of Ohio’s economy has reopened, in our world it’s different. In our world, we are the 5-10% percent of the economy that isn’t opening. Even though Warren County government is in great shape, our economy is in a state of emergency and we have to get these things reopened. Kings Island should be open tomorrow.”
State Rep. Bridget Kelly, R-Cincinnati, however, urged caution moving forward.
“We must continue to look out for the health, safety, and well-being of Ohioans. And we need to listen to the health experts when we talk about re-opening. We all want to be able to enjoy our communities and participate in the activities we enjoy. But we have to be thoughtful about reopening - because we want to be able to stay open.”