TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners took their discussion of who to blame for the troubled splash pad at Clinch Park behind closed doors and left the task of figuring out how to fix it with their city manager.

Most commissioners agreed to let City Manager Jered Ottenwess hire an expert to prioritize a list of repairs, develop an implementation plan, and refine cost estimates. Commissioners said Monday during a study session they have no intention of bulldozing the troubled water feature and want it fixed as cheaply as possible.

But when questions from commissioners Ross Richardson and Jeanine Easterday began to pry into the interplay between city officials and designers of the splash pad, Mayor Michael Estes reminded commissioners they would go into closed session and redirected the discussion.

“In terms of laying blame here I don’t think we will accomplish a whole lot other than a public venting,” Estes said.

City Manager Jered Ottenwess had previously cautioned commissioners that discussion of blame, especially regarding the role played by consultant Hamilton Anderson Associates, could harm the city’s ability to recover costs through its dispute resolution process. The city paid the firm about $276,000 to design and oversee construction of the $2.9 million Clinch Park project, including $360,000 for the splash pad that rained water mixed with raw sewage on children when it opened a little more than a year ago.

The sewage problem was fixed and the popular water feature has operated without incident this year. But it floods when it rains and has filtration and other problems that make it expensive to operate. A refined report from city engineer Tim Lodge estimates costs could run from a low of $73,000 for the highest priority fixes to almost $348,000 if they do everything over the next five years. And city officials want to recover some of those costs from the project’s consultant.

 “I know there will always be the questions about responsibility for how these problems came to be at the splash pad,” Ottenwess said. “I would just suggest it would be harmful to the city’s interests to get into detailed discussions that could implicate various people that are responsible.”

Ottenwess said he could answer questions about staff decisions, but the commissioners had to be very careful about any discussion involving Hamilton Anderson.

Commissioners turned their attention to the next step, and most agreed to allow Ottenwess to proceed with his recommendation to hire an expert to recommend a course of action. He estimated the cost at less than $5,000.

Richardson objected.

“We should figure out what we can do easily and cheaply before we hire yet again another consultant,” he said. “We got in trouble hiring a consultant. Do we really want to hire another one to tell us how to spend our money?”

But the majority preferred a water park expert recommend the fixes instead of city staff.

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