Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 30, 2013

Editorial: Time to come clean on splash pad fiasco

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Sooner or later, Traverse City residents will be able to talk about the splash pad at Clinch Park without an image coming to mind of kids being sprayed by human waste.

It will take a while, but eventually the splash pad will become a favorite fixture of summer fun at the park for thousands of kids and their parents. That’s assuming, of course, that it opens for business in the next day or two with no further problems - and no raw sewage.

That’s what should have happened in the first place, but Traverse City and the contractors it hired to build the water feature inexplicably made some Plumbing 101 mistakes and hooked up the water supply in a way that allowed raw sewage to be pumped out of water jets meant to replicate the fun of running through the backyard sprinkler.

That blunder should have been (and perhaps would have been) caught before the splash pad went on line in time for the National Cherry Festival, but it turns out the city and its contractors didn’t obtain the necessary permits. A state Department of Environmental Quality official said regulators were under “political pressure” and a city official said state Rep. Wayne Schmidt, who represents Grand Traverse County in Lansing, called the DEQ to intervene.

This time around, the city has worked closely with state and county inspectors to get it right. The design flaw that allowed backed-up sewage to flow into the park’s fountains has been eliminated and the splash pad is now completely disconnected from the city’s sanitary sewer line, officials said.

“What happened (in June) would be impossible to duplicate,” DEQ Environmental Engineer David Graves said.

That this was a classic case of bungling compounded by political meddling is beyond obvious. Lots of people wanted the splash pad open for the Cherry Festival. But haste and waste combined to create a public health and public relations disaster.

Now it’s time for the city to come clean and for city officials to explain, in detail, who did what, when they did it and why. The public needs to know who intervened to prevent the system of checks and balances from working. The public also wants some accountability for what went wrong and for Traverse City becoming a punch line for potty jokes.

We have rules and regulations for a reason. When local governments break those rules, purposely or by accident, the public has a right to know who did it and why.