Parks agency wants Thermopolis pool operator out

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources has moved to evict a longtime pool concessionaire from Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, an official said Thursday.

State parks director Milward Simpson said he gave notice last month to the owners of TePee Pools Inc. The company has had a concession to run a hot springs minerals bath and pools operation at the park since 1990.

Simpson gave the company until May 6 to remove a large pool building and its other property from the park.

He said he believes TePee Pools has failed to follow a lease agreement requiring it to submit an acceptable master plan of how to update its operations.

The company entered a new, 35-year lease with the state in July 2012 that called for it to develop an acceptable master plan within a year, he said.

"For whatever reason, they were not able to provide a master plan that met the lease requirement for a first-class facility that meets the trends of the industry and is comparable to top-flight facilities in the Rocky Mountain region," Simpson said.

Ed Moriarity, a lawyer in Bozeman, Mont., represents TePee Pools, which is operated by his relatives. He said the company strongly disagrees that it submitted an unacceptable plan.

"(Simpson) just says, 'this is the rule, you guys get off,'" Moriarity said. "We're not going to acquiesce to him peaceably. Just because Mr. Simpson says it, doesn't mean that's the way it's going to be."

Moriarity said TePee Pools doesn't agree with Simpson's position that his rejection of the company's proposed master plan led to termination of the lease. He said the lease also contains a provision that the state won't unreasonably withhold approval of the lease, which the company claims it has done.

It would be impossible to remove the swimming pool and other company property from the park by the state's proposed deadline, Moriarity said.

Simpson, in his March 7 letter to the company announcing termination of its contract, stated that the company's proposed master plan needed to include planned improvements such as "a splash park, lazy river, wave pool, impressive slides, spa facilities and other improved and modernized facilities."

He stated it was unacceptable that the company proposed to build only some of the improvements and only then if it proved feasible in the future to do so.

Simpson said the state intends to investigate whether other private companies are willing to build the facilities the state wants at the site. If not, he said it's possible the state could build them and hire a private operator.

Moriarity said Simpson's vision for the state park is inappropriate. He said many senior citizens currently come to the park to soak in the mineral waters. He said they don't want wave machines and steep slides.

Moriarity noted the state got ownership of the area's hot springs through an 1896 treaty with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. He said a condition of the treaty requires free public access to the springs. Moriarty said Simpson's desire to develop a water park in Thermopolis would be out of keeping with the intent of the treaty.

If Simpson insists on trying to evict TePee Pools, Moriarity said the owners will weigh their alternatives. "You have to go in and if necessary, do whatever is necessary to submit the matters to the courts," he said.

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