County links Sterling Heights fuel spill to disabled truck

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 12, 2020

 Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller points at containment booms that were used to absorb pollution at the Sterling Relief Drain, where a fuel spill was reportedly spotted Aug. 11.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller points at containment booms that were used to absorb pollution at the Sterling Relief Drain, where a fuel spill was reportedly spotted Aug. 11.

Photo provided by the Macomb County Public Works Office

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Macomb County officials are blaming a fuel spill that polluted the Sterling Relief Drain in Sterling Heights on a truck.

The Macomb County Public Works Office said Aug. 11 that a China Township, Michigan, construction contractor, T.R. Pieprzak Co., reportedly spotted an oil sheen that morning by Dodge Park Road north of 15 Mile Road. After that, the county said, engineers, environmental and construction/maintenance managers, and other investigators got to work trying to find the spill’s origin.

The drain site in question is located north of 15 Mile Road, from Van Dyke Avenue to east of Schoenherr Road. Its flow connects to the Red Run Drain, which later links to the Clinton River and Lake St. Clair. 

The Public Works Office so far thinks that the spill might’ve started in Sterling Heights, near Van Dyke, north of Metropolitan Parkway. So far, the county believes that the spill is diesel fuel, but they haven’t estimated how many gallons were dumped.

County officials said T.R. Pieprzak Co. connected with the Warren-based Doetsch Environmental Services so that containment booms could be placed on the water to soak up and contain the spill.

The county Public Works Office’s commissioner, Candice Miller, said the county is dedicated to seeing the spill contained and cleaned. County officials added that more booms will go where the relief drain intersects the Red Run, as well as the Clinton River. 

Miller said the incident was “more than just someone putting a gallon of diesel in by mistake,” and she vowed to punish the perpetrator if it becomes clear that the spill was intentional.

“We have a zero tolerance for any kind of contaminants that are getting into any of our drains,” she said in a statement. “We cannot have this happening anymore. 

“If we find out somebody did this negligently, we all make mistakes, and we’ll do what we have to do. But if somebody did this and knew what they were doing and didn’t call us, there will be consequences.”

On Aug, 12, county officials said they discovered what was behind the spill — a disabled truck reportedly leaked the diesel into a sewer on Stanley Drive, located near 15 Mile and Mound roads, without warning authorities. 

The Public Works Office said one of its construction engineers noticed an estimated 80-foot stain there, and investigators later learned that a tractor trailer went out of commission there at around 9 a.m. Aug. 10. County officials added that they learned that a truck repair company visited the vehicle, which reportedly was somehow moved “after spilling diesel.” 

The Public Works Office still didn’t estimate how much fuel entered the water, nor could they confirm at press time the identity of the truck’s driver, owner or repair company. Miller later said that the spiller should’ve contacted Sterling Heights or the county when the spill happened so that quicker mitigation measures could have better protected the environment.

“Accidents sometimes happen, but failure to report is not acceptable,” she said.

When asked for comment on the spill, Joseph Romano, R-Sterling Heights, who represents District 4 on the Macomb County Board of Commissioners, said he is glad that Miller is in charge because she considers Lake St. Clair to be the crown jewel of Macomb County.

“We call Candice Miller the queen of Lake St. Clair,” Romano said. “As far as she is concerned, the lake will never be clean enough due to polluters, but she will go after them very aggressively.”

County officials later added that Doetsch Environmental Services used a vacuum truck to do a cleanup Aug. 12 that affected around 1,800 feet of storm sewers. The project was expected to last until at least Aug. 14.

The county later added that they think the diesel never got into the Clinton River, thanks to the booms.

Anyone who has more information about the spill or its origins should contact the Macomb County Public Works Office by visiting publicworks.macombgov.org or by calling (586) 469-5325.

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