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Pa. auditor blasts Ag Department over ride inspections - abc27 WHTM

Pa. auditor blasts Ag Department over ride inspections

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Forget Florida.

Move over, California.

Those theme-park filled states have nothing on Pennsylvania, which has 9,300 registered rides, tops in the nation. You can find them at traditional theme parks, but also at fairs, carnivals and festivals across the Keystone State.

But a new report might be scarier than the commonwealth's tallest roller coaster.

A several-month investigation by PublicSource found that half of the state's amusement and water parks failed to turn in proper inspection reports last year, as required by law.

The investigation also found that with just four ride inspectors at the Department of Agriculture, which oversees amusements in Pennsylvania, state oversight is lacking and penalties for violators non-existent.

"The Department of Ag needs to get on the stick here," said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who read the PublicSource report and said he is alarmed by it.

"We need to make sure that when people get on these rides, and kids get on these rides, that they've been inspected and they're safe," he said.

Walt Remmert agrees.

"There's nothing more important than public safety," he said. "That's our mandate. Taxpayer dollars are paying for this program and we take it very, very seriously."

Remmert is with the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Rides. He takes issue with many of the PublicSource conclusions even though his department provided the news agency with the information it used in its research.

Most notably, Walt said PublicSource failed to mention nearly 2,200 privately certified inspectors that check out rides nearly every day across the state. He concedes that budget cuts in 2008, under Governor Ed Rendell, trimmed the number of ride inspectors from nine to four. There are now just two inspectors on each side of the state, he said.

"Four is not nine," Remmert said. "I'm not quite sure how to comment other than to say I believe we can get the job done. Would more be better? Of course it would."

The last roller coaster fatality in Pennsylvania got little play in the news. It happened at the York Fair on September 10, 2001, the night before the terror attacks of September 11. DePasquale is from York. He remembers and doesn't want that scene repeated.

"Right now, it's very clear - whether the Ag Department doesn't have enough people or the system isn't effective, whatever it is - it's very clear they're not doing their job," he said.

Remmert insists the problems exposed by PublicSource are more of a paperwork problem than a ride safety problem. He concedes the inspection forms for nearly 10,000 rides may not be perfectly filed. But, bottom line he says, the rides are safe.

"I would ride them. I would allow my children to ride them," he said. "I have no issue. If they're registered in Pennsylvania, they are the safest rides we can make them."

It's worth noting that Hersheypark was completely compliant with its paperwork, according to the PublicSource investigation.

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