TRAVERSE CITY — A state official said "political pressure" nudged state regulators into prematurely allowing a splash pad to open at Clinch Park, a sparkling new feature that subsequently rained water contaminated with human waste on a half-dozen children.
Paul Sisson, an environmental engineering specialist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, gave the city permission to open the splash pad on June 27 without a construction permit or state license to operate.
A sewage back-up on Sunday pushed raw sewage into the 2,000-gallon reservoir that feeds the splash pad, rain arc, and mister, primary features of the $360,000 waterscape named after former Michigan Gov. William G. Milliken.
"We were getting some pressure from our front office," Sisson said. "It was political pressure. We were told to see what we could do. Nobody checked with us to get a permit, so we are just playing catch-up," Sisson said.
City planner Russ Soyring acknowledged late Tuesday the city also failed to obtain electrical and mechanical permits from Grand Traverse County for the water feature.
The splash pad has an overflow drain that connects to the city's sanitary sewer in case of heavy rains. A sewer pump station at the Open Space failed over the weekend, and sewage backed up and flowed into the 2,000-gallon water reservoir that feeds the park's fountains.
The sewage back-up was discovered Sunday morning, shortly after the splash pad was turned on at 10 a.m. City officials estimated that five or six children used the splash pad that morning.
The waterscape is considered a public swimming pool because the water recirculates and is filtered. Sisson said the normal process, similar to any building project, is to submit plans to obtain a construction permit before starting construction. State officials would then review plans, and Sisson said they likely would have questioned the waterscape's drainage feature that led to the contamination.