A multimillion-dollar bayfront park opens in Traverse City to much fanfare and features a splash pad for kids, but the latter immediately closes — just before the year’s biggest tourist crush — because project managers and/or city officials didn’t obtain necessary state permits, so a local politician wades back-door into the fray and pressures state bureaucrats to let the water flow in time to refresh Cherry Festing children, but then whoops, a city sewer pump fails, backs up and the splash pad spews raw sewage on who-knows-how-many unsuspecting kids, exposing them to who knows what, a boondoggle that unfolded before the very eyes of hundreds of thousands of tourists and locals.
It’d be tough to write a more embarrassing script. But as is often the case in the Grand Traverse region, truth can be weirder than the most well-crafted yarn.
So the community collectively shakes its head, a sort of weary, we’ve-been-down-this-road-before dismissal of bungling bureaucrats and politicians. The bureaucrats and politicians scramble for cover and try to ascertain who’ll take the brunt of blame.
Alas, there’s plenty of blame to go around, beginning with the project’s design consultant, Hamilton Anderson Associates, who failed to obtain a state permit before the splash pad was built. They also came up with an “unusual” design that could allow sewage to flow unabated into the splash pad’s water source. City officials apparently did next to nothing to monitor the work, unless they agreed with and signed off on the curious “sewer backup plan.” City officials also contend they didn’t ask anyone to grease the skids for state permitting to reopen the splash pad in time for National Cherry Festival crowds.
Perhaps. But city Planner Russ Soyring said state Rep. Wayne Schmidt, who represents Grand Traverse County, offered to make calls to the state Department of Environmental Quality to do just that. Suddenly, no pesky permits. Splash away, kids, courtesy of Rep. Schmidt!
Some locals have tried to spin away the mess, including ridiculous assertions that Schmidt was just trying to help the community. Sorry, there’s nothing virtuous about applying political pressure to undermine health and safety regulations. Bottom line: Schmidt isn’t the only person worthy of blame, but without his meddling, a bunch of kids wouldn’t have been doused with raw sewage.
And that’s the most important take-away from this mess: kids were exposed to contaminated, potentially hazardous waste water because adults failed them miserably.