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 The Macomb County Public Works Office sets up containment booms Jan. 3 at a drain near 14 Mile and Schoenherr roads in Sterling Heights.

The Macomb County Public Works Office sets up containment booms Jan. 3 at a drain near 14 Mile and Schoenherr roads in Sterling Heights.

Photo provided by the Macomb County Public Works Office

Sterling Heights addresses local petroleum spill

By: Eric Czarnik, Nick Mordowanec | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 14, 2020


STERLING HEIGHTS — Sterling Heights and Macomb County officials have been containing and cleaning an apparent petroleum spill that was tracked to the Schoenherr Relief Drain earlier this month. And they’re calling for fresh action to make sure incidents like this don’t happen again.

Macomb County Public Works Office officials said Jan. 6 that the search for the precise source of a petroleum spill into the Schoenherr Relief Drain in Warren, and subsequently into the Clinton River, is ongoing.

Public Works Office officials said the leak was originally noted the morning of Jan. 3 by a resident along the Clinton River, near Budd Park, in Clinton Township. That individual reportedly noticed a sheen moving down the river, leading to an immediate investigation and response.

“Thanks to a concerned citizen, we were able to catch this flow of petroleum before the bulk of it made it to Lake St. Clair,” Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said in a press release. “We are all one big watershed, and all the storm water in the metro area runs out to Lake St. Clair or other parts of the Great Lakes Basin. We all have to work together to prevent pollution from entering the lakes.”

Personnel from fire departments and public works offices in Clinton Township, Sterling Heights and Warren assisted the Macomb County Public Works Office Jan. 3 to track the source of the sheen back to the Schoenherr Relief Drain, near 14 Mile and Schoenherr roads.

That drain, according to the Macomb County Public Works Office, “is a large, underground storm drain that travels south (to) north under Schoenherr Road, from Nine Mile Road to just north of 14 Mile Road.” It enters the Red Run Drain, which then enters the Clinton River and eventually transports water out to Lake St. Clair.

The office estimated that “between 75 and 100 gallons” of petroleum entered the drain, prompting containment booms to be put in place. It was believed that petroleum in that relief drain came from a fuel storage tank of some sort, due to the volume of material in the drain. The county believes that the petroleum product might be gasoline.

On Jan. 4, investigators made “several manned entries” into the underground drain in question in Warren.

County officials said they coordinated with the Sterling Heights, Warren and Clinton Township fire departments to deploy containment booms that absorb pollutants. The absorbent booms were to remain in place until the water no longer has petroleum in it.

Sterling Heights Fire Chief Chris Martin confirmed that his Fire Department was involved in placing booms across the waterway. He explained that the booms typically come in approximately 6-foot sections, and they can be linked together.

“The petroleum floats on water,” Martin explained. “The boom sits on top and grabs that. (It) both contains and absorbs.”

Miller vowed that whoever is responsible for the leak will be held accountable, saying “the day where (polluting the lake) was acceptable is over, and the conversation has changed.”

That includes recouping costs and taking “other actions” as necessary, she added.

“This incident shows how all of our storm water drains are part of one larger system,” she said. “Here’s a spill that happened in Warren and was seen in the river some 5 or 10 miles away, on the way out to Lake St. Clair.

“We appreciate the responsible citizens who alert us to these incidents. We continue to be vigilant and make inspections of our drains, but we also rely on our good neighbors for assistance in sounding the alarm when there is a problem.”

The office issued another update Jan. 6, saying that “water was running mostly clear from the drain.” According to Macomb County Public Works Office spokesman Dan Heaton, the office kept booms in two Sterling Heights spots along the Red Run on Jan. 6. Heaton added that, at the time, some petroleum residues remained, despite most of the water appearing clear. The source was still undiscovered, and Heaton told the Sentry that, at this point, there is no way of determining the culprit.

“Now it’s just a question of cleaning up what’s coming from the drain,” he said.

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor commented on the recent petroleum spill, underscoring the need to protect the environment.

“Clean drinking water and clean waterways and protecting our environment have to be at the top of our list of priorities,” he said. “Commissioner Miller and her team are doing a fantastic job. The county residents are well served under her leadership. The city will partner with her and anyone else to make sure these things don’t happen. We have to protect our earth.”

This isn’t the first time that Sterling Heights has dealt with pollution in its waterways. In April 2019, the county discovered concrete washout in Burr Relief Drain No. 2, at a spot near Mound and 18 Mile roads in Sterling Heights. That drain flows into the Plumbrook Drain and the Red Run.

The county determined that the washout came from an industrial site. Heaton told C & G Newspapers that a cement business had to pay about $4,000 in cleanup costs, which it promptly did.

“As a result of the investigation, we required (the business) to conduct on-site clean-outs of the retention basins on their property,” Heaton said in an email. “This cleanup was completed last spring, and there have been no further reports of problems in that area.”

He said the company was cooperative throughout the process and appears to have incorporated new practices to prevent incidents in the future.

Pollution concerns also recently arose in metro Detroit following a separate incident — the discovery last month of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium chemicals flowing out of a retaining wall on Interstate 696 in Madison Heights.

In a Jan. 6 Facebook post, the city of Sterling Heights said the Great Lakes Water Authority indicated that the incident doesn’t affect GLWA member communities’ drinking water.

“The source of the water treated by the Great Lakes Water Authority is from Lake Huron and the Detroit River (as opposed to groundwater wells),” the statement said. “Additionally, GLWA’s three intakes, one in Lake Huron and two in the Detroit River, are very long distances from the Electro-Plating Services site in Madison Heights.”

The Macomb County Public Works Office maintains a 24-hour pollution notification number at (877) 679-4337.