July 2 2014 12:00 AM

City Council members question lack of notification about oil spill, committee to investigate response


Responding to a small oil spill on the Grand River Thursday, City Council members have questions about how the city responded and why they weren’t notified.

Julie Powers, executive director of the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council, addressed the City Council General Services Committee Monday with her concerns over the city’s response and lack of communications.

“Every time I ask the city what is happening, I get a different answer,” Powers told the committee. She said this is the fourth such incident in a year at the same location. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality concurs with Powers, telling City Pulse that the spills have been an “ongoing issue.”

“The committee is going to conduct an investigation” into the city´s response and the source of the spills, said Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar, who chairs the committee. Dunbar said she was informed about the spill by Powers, while Council Vice President Judi Brown Clarke said she learned of the spill from the news. Councilman Derrick Quinney said the meeting was the first time he heard about the spill.

Dunbar, Quinney and Brown Clarke said they should have been notified by city officials of the incident.

Mayor Virg Bernero said he did not have time to communicate with Council about the incident, and that he welcomes the investigation. Chad Gamble, the city’s chief operating officer agreed, adding that the administration did not have time, or enough information, to generate a report to provide to Council on Monday.

Council members expressed concern for residents who use the river near the Brenke Fish Ladder to fish for food for their families.

The incident was first reported on Thursday when an employee of the DEQ noticed “sheen” in the water during a routine monitoring job related to the former Motor Wheel industrial site. near Saginaw and Larch streets, Sheen is a rainbow-colored slick floating on the surface of the water and is the result of oil dispersing. The sheen was tracked to the a storm sewer output less than 15 feet south of the Brenke Fish Ladder entrance, and the attached dam.

“We immediately mobilized an environmental hazard response involving LFD, BWL and our Public Service Department, and also moved to inform and engage state regulatory authorities at MDEQ,” Gamble wrote in an email to City Pulse late Monday.

The environmental hazard response included placing booms around the area. Booms are designed to contain and absorb oil and other hazardous chemicals that float on the surface of the water. There are two types of booms, usually deployed together: a hard, plastic boom and a soft absorbent boom. The city placed only absorbent booms on the location, and on Friday, pictures and video from the location showed the contaminant was flowing under and around the soft boom and heading over the dam.

A contractor was on site on Friday, vacuuming the oil from the water surface with a vacuum truck. Gamble said the water and oil removed from the river on Friday was “properly disposed of,” and that the contractor was back on site Monday continuing remediation.

Trent Atkins, deputy fire chief for the Lansing Fire Department, said there was no need to use a rigid containment boom. He said the city has started replacing booms every eight to 12 hours to prevent the “seeping” of product from the absorbent boom. Gamble said he had no concerns about the contractors´ not using protective gear during the cleanup.

On Tuesday, city and state officials held a press conference to announce a wide scale investigation into the source of the contamination. The investigation had already reviewed approximately 16 city blocks worth of storm sewer lines directly east of the spill. That track ended when the city could no longer detect the chemical agents tied to the contaminant. City officials will use code compliance and building enforcement laws to inspect properties to determine the possible source of the contamination.

Anyone identified as being the cause of the contamination could face criminal charges ranging from misdemeanor to felony charges, said Lansing Police Chief Michael Yankowski.