County votes on standards for Whitewater Center as CEO takes cri - | WBTV Charlotte

County votes on standards for Whitewater Center as CEO takes criticism

(Sarah-Blake Morgan | WBTV) (Sarah-Blake Morgan | WBTV)

Four months after a teenager died after contracting a deadly brain eating amoeba, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners took action to regulate the U-S National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. Health officials believe 18-year-old Lauren Seitz likely contracted the organism while visiting the center. 

Until now, USNWC CEO Jeff Wise hasn't spoken publicly, despite multiple requests from WBTV and other media outlets.

Tuesday night, Wise addressed commissioners supporting the list of regulations his facility will now have to follow. They include strict guidelines for the channel's chlorine, ozone and ultra violet filtration systems.

Mecklenburg County Health Department director Marcus Plescia says the regulations were built with input from federal, state and local leaders. 

“This was really a final step that needed to be put in place. We have a Whitewater Center that’s not really like anything you find in other communities and I think the events over the summer really suggested that we needed to do more to keep an eye on things,” Plescia said. 

The county's guidelines require daily water testing by center officers. Four times a year, county officials will test the water themselves and inspect the center's logs.

Plescia says the facility is much safer than it was before the incident

“I think we know a lot more about how to keep water facilities safe than we did when our Whitewater Center opened almost two decades ago,” he said.

But what may have stood out the most was the heat Wise took from commissioners for his public absence after the death of Seitz.

"I was about to say you didn't live because I never saw you. You never came to anything. And I kept asking where is this man," commissioner Vilma Leake said. 

If the center doesn't comply with the standards it can be shut down. 

“The biggest question at the press conference was when are we going to get to talk with Mr. Wise? Have you talked to Mr. Wise? Does anybody know Jeff Wise? And I think over that period of time I was probably asked that question 50 times,” commissioner Pat Cotham said. 

When asked about his lack of availability, Wise didn't seem to have any regrets. 

"Well, actually, we made ourselves very available to you. We have a director of public relations, a director of communications who's soul job is to communicate with the press and has been doing that on a consistent basis. That's his job and that's what we set that up for," Wise said.

Wise insists he doesn't believe their filtration system was inadequate. Instead, that is wasn't made to eliminate the amoeba. 

“Anytime you’re in a river, any time you’re in a body of water, there are water quality issues that you have to address and one of those things was in this particular case the water quality in the white water system,” he said.

Wise would not comment on if there has been any communication or litigation with Seitz's family.

The new Whitewater Center regulations will go into effect starting January 1.

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