By BRIAN McGILLIVARY
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Summer likely will end before children can safely frolic in Traverse City’s new $360,000 splash pad at Clinch Park.
City officials confirmed it may take more than a month to make changes to prevent a repeat of a June incident in which the water feature rained sewage-contaminated water on unsuspecting children.
An initial proposal to completely separate the splash pad from the city’s sanitary sewer line clogged when the price tag came in at $28,000. The city’s design consultant, Hamilton Anderson Associates, is researching two other repair options that would be acceptable to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
“The DEQ has several requirements and some of those require more construction,” said City Manager Jered Ottenwess. “We still have several issues to work through. It’s not likely it will be open by Labor Day.”
About 15 people reported gastrointestinal illness or rash after playing in the city’s water feature just days after it opened on June 25. The splash pad’s overflow drain sits inches above the underground reservoir that fed the water feature’s sprinklers. A sewer back-up spilled raw sewage, mostly from the marina, into the reservoir.
City officials said Hamilton Anderson did not obtain a construction permit from the DEQ before building the splash pad. DEQ regulators cited political pressure for their decision to allow the city to operate the splash pad while they reviewed the plans.
Regulators sent out a draft letter on July 19 to Brett Davis of Hamilton Anderson that cited 19 separate concerns with the permit application submitted in late June. Most had to do with incomplete or missing information in the plans, but the DEQ also questioned how well the waterscape’s filters and ultra-violet sanitation will work. The main item remains the sewer connection.
“The overflow is connected directly to the sanitary sewer through a p-trap,” the letter states. “The plans have no provision for backflow prevention as required by the rules. The direct connection of the overflow to the sanitary sewer must be disconnected ... to prevent the backflow of wastewater into the spray pad system.”
Davis did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Russ Soyring, city planner and project manager, initially said Hamilton Anderson recommended diverting rain overflow into small dry wells capable of handling most rain events, with water from heavier rains flowing overland to the bay. But because the splash pad sits in a depression, there was no practical means for rainwater to escape, and the larger wells boosted the repair price to $28,000.
A second option is to divert the overflow to a catch basin in the storm water sewer that eventually would flow into the bay. But Soyring said that may require the city to seek a special discharge permit from the DEQ because the splash pad water is chlorinated similarly to a swimming pool.
The third option involves building curbs around the splash pad to retain rain water and then slowly pump it to a floor drain in the building that holds the filters and the pumps.
City officials hope to have costs on all three options no later than next week, at which point they’ll make a selection and seek a permit from the DEQ.
The city and Hamilton Anderson have not determined who will pay for the fix, Ottenwess said.
“Our primary concern is obtaining the permit and opening the facility,” Ottenwess said.