Residents on Sylvan Lake, pictured here earlier in August, reported a strange substance on the surface of the water and the smell of diesel fuel on the lake over the Labor Day weekend.

Residents on Sylvan Lake, pictured here earlier in August, reported a strange substance on the surface of the water and the smell of diesel fuel on the lake over the Labor Day weekend.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Officials investigate fuel on Sylvan Lake

By: Sherri Kolade | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 6, 2018


SYLVAN LAKE  —  Officials are looking into the source of fuel that was found on the surface of Sylvan Lake over the Labor Day weekend. 

City Manager John Martin said he believes there was no fuel spill per se on Sept. 1 — rather, runoff from vehicles caused a scare after heavy rain flushed nearby storm drains.

However, Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash said the source of the fuel has not yet been determined. Earlier reports had speculated that a gas station in Sylvan Lake was the source, but that has since been found to be false.

Officials agree, though, that the water is safe and there will be no long-term ill effects to marine life.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office sent an email blast out Sept. 3 regarding the OCSO Marine Unit’s response, along with other government agencies, to a report of a fuel spill on Sylvan Lake.

According to the email from the Sheriff’s Office, Marine Unit deputies arrived on the scene that day, along with officers from the Sylvan Lake Police Department, and they saw that a large portion of the lake had been covered with fuel.  

“The preliminary investigation indicated the fuel was likely to be coming from several storm drains in the area,” the email states. 

Martin said that the rain had flushed materials from the storm drains, “so whatever little oil, gas, transmission fluid, brake fluid … that might have dripped onto Telegraph — and whatever other roads — washed out onto the lake.”

According to the email from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, “Residents living on Sylvan Lake became concerned when they smelled a strong odor of diesel fuel coming from the lake and observed fuel on the surface of the water.”

WRC representative Julia Ruffin stated in an email that less than 10 gallons of fuel spilled and that the water is safe. She said there will be no long-term effects to wildlife or the ecosystem, and residents should not be concerned.

Nash said that he doesn’t really know yet what the source of the leak was, and he can’t say if it was rain related. 

The state’s Department of Environmental Quality is investigating, he said, and if an issue is uncovered, they will correct it, but “I haven’t seen anything yet.”

Nash said that nothing was found in the storm drains. He said it had “nothing to do with our systems.”

He said the fuel likely originated overland and near the shore, i.e. on the road or from yards, because diesel is not typically used for boats. 

Nash added that this is the second fuel spill in his nearly six years in his position that he has come across.

“Accidents happen,” he said.

Martin said that he would like to use the fuel spill as a “teaching moment.” 

“This is an appropriate time to explain that whatever goes into a storm drain ends up in our lakes, rivers and streams. Even if you think you’re a long ways from a body of water, eventually it makes it there. Stormwater management is taken very seriously by all levels of government, and everybody needs to play their part. Never dump things in a catch basin or drain,” he said in the email.

Martin, who was at Sylvan Lake until 4 a.m. Sept. 2 and back again at 6:30 a.m., said that some containment booms — tubular objects that absorb oil, gas and other hazardous materials — were put out near the Clinton River as a precaution.

“They did what they were supposed to … but the levels were never at anything that would be harmful,” he said.

Martin said that there was no trace of the substance remaining by the next morning.

“It was all gone,” Martin said. “It really was a non-issue. … It was really blown out of proportion.”  

According to the OCSO email, deputies were authorized to make a forced entry into the Dawson’s Mill Pond Dam control area to close the Mill Pond Dam to avoid further contamination of Oakland County waterways.  

The OCSO Marine Unit is assisting the Sylvan Lake Police Department and several additional agencies with an investigation, the email states.