TRAVERSE CITY — City officials will disconnect Clinch Park’s splash pad overflow drain from the city sewer system to eliminate the possibility of any future sewer contamination.
About a dozen children reported gastrointestinal illness after playing in the city’s new water feature that was contaminated by a sewer overflow just days after it opened on June 25. The city considered but discarded installing check valves that would have prevented sewer back-ups into the pad in favor of diverting overflow into a dry well.
“We wanted to eliminate the possibility of mechanical ... or some other type of failure and totally disconnect it from the sewer so people don’t have to worry about it,” said Russ Soyring, city planner and project manager for the park project. “The possibility of a sewer back-up will be impossible, unless it comes over the land.”
A dry-well effectively is a covered, stone-filled hole in the ground that allows water to seep into the soil. It will be large enough to handle the heaviest rain expected in any five-year period. The recommendation for the dry-well came from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which regulates construction of public swimming pools and splash pads that recirculate water.
The splash pad’s overflow drain previously was located just above the underground reservoir that fed the water feature’s sprinklers. When the sewer backed up it spilled into the reservoir.
The project’s design consultant, Hamilton Anderson Associates, did not obtain a construction permit from the DEQ before building the splash pad. DEQ officials said they likely would have questioned the unusual design to connect to the sanitary sewer without any means to prevent a back-up.
Soyring said the DEQ should have the new plans today and he expects a full report from the DEQ regarding any concerns it may have in regards to the splash pad late this week or early next week.
The soonest the splash pad might reopen will be in two weeks, but Soyring said a number of things could further delay it, including money. If the cost of the dry-well exceeds the money left over from the $2.9 million project, Soyring will need city commission approval to proceed. Soyring was waiting for both a cost estimate and a final accounting of the remaining project balance on Tuesday.
The city also hasn’t determined who eventually will pay for the changes, Soyring said.
The city commission has yet to weigh in on what Mayor Michael Estes termed an “embarrassment” for the city. Estes said commissioners first want to see the park completed and the splash pad fixed before it looks at what went wrong.
The city’s attorney is reviewing all related contracts and Estes said he expects the commission to pursue any reimbursement available.
“I think there is going to be a total review of it,” Estes said. “If someone screwed up, we will proceed accordingly.”