Paul Sisson, an environmental engineering specialist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, gave the city permission to open the Clinch Park splash pad June 27 without a construction permit or state license to operate.
"We were getting some pressure from our front office," Sisson said. "It was political pressure. We were told to see what we could do."
Sisson said, however, about the pressure that: "I don't know who is pushing." The new splash pad — a playground that features sprinklers and fountains — got the OK to open ahead of the National Cherry Festival, a major annual event in the northwestern Lower Peninsula community that's a big draw for tourists.
City planner Russ Soyring said Traverse City also failed to obtain electrical and mechanical permits from Grand Traverse County. The city hopes to reopen the splash pad later this week, Soyring said, but that won't happen until all permits are in hand.
"We put a deadline to have a ribbon-cutting and we wanted the park finished," Soyring said. "I feel it was rushed, they could have used another couple of weeks to finish up the park."
The waterscape, which is considered a public swimming pool because the water recirculates and is filtered, is named for former Michigan Gov. William Milliken.
The splash pad has an overflow drain that connects to the city's sanitary sewer in case of heavy rains. City officials discovered Sunday morning that a sewer pump station failed over the weekend, and sewage backed up and flowed into the 2,000-gallon water reservoir that feeds the park's fountains.
Splash pad tanks typically are engineered to overflow into a storm sewer, Sisson said. The DEQ might have questioned linking the overflow to the sanitary sewer without any check valves to protect the system in case of a sewer backup, Sisson said.
Brett Davis, a landscape architect for park designer Hamilton Anderson Associates, said they chose not to link the splash pad's water overflow system to the storm drains because they didn't want chlorinated water to flow into nearby Grand Traverse Bay.