Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 29, 2013

Splash pad gets go-ahead

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Clinch Park’s fledgling splash pad can reopen in time for Labor Day weekend — provided city employees perform a handful of final, small fixes to the dormant water feature.

The $360,000 splash pad has been closed since it rained sewage-contaminated water upon children just days after its June opening. Months of repairs and redesigns apparently paid off this week when a joint inspection by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Grand Traverse County Health Department officials granted the city conditional approval to reopen the waterscape.

The inspection requires the city to replace the splash pad’s drain grates, change the rock guards over LED lights on a water arch, and erect a sign indicating an 80-person load limit before it reopens. City Manager Jered Ottenwess said the splash pad won’t reopen until the changes are made and he’s optimistic they can be completed by the holiday weekend.

“We have definitely been deliberate in making sure everything is done properly before we open it,” he said.

The splash pad opened just before the National Cherry Festival and without the city or its contractors having obtained necessary state permits. A DEQ official told the Record-Eagle that state regulators allowed the splash pad to open without permits because of “political pressure”, and a city official said state Rep. Wayne Schmidt, of Grand Traverse County called the DEQ to intervene.

A design flaw then allowed backed-up sewage to flow into the 2,000-gallon water reservoir that feeds the park’s fountains.

Rose Ann Davis, spokeswoman for the Grand Traverse County Health Department, said people from 16 households reported gastrointestinal symptoms after children played in the sewage-contaminated splash pad.

“They were all there during that time frame, but there was no testing done,” she said.

The splash pad is now completely disconnected from the city’s sanitary sewer line in order to prevent a repeat of the June incident.

“What happened then would be impossible to duplicate,” DEQ Environmental Engineer David Graves said.

City Planner Russ Soyring said this week’s included inspectors’ demand for drain grates that would reduce the risk of fingers or toes being caught, but also allow more water to flow through.

“We have to have more smaller holes,” he said. “The DEQ didn’t want to see as much ponding in the splash pad.”

Soyring said park department employees and subcontractors spent Wednesday installing a stronger lock on a chemical box and putting up new signs. He said the city also took a water sample as a “precautionary step.”

“We’ll have the test results tomorrow and have health department inspect (it),” he said.

Soyring said the splash pad could open as soon as today. He said a longer-term project to install drywells that handle water overflow in large-scale rain storms would begin after the splash pad closes again in late September or October.