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Homeowners furious after beloved Novi lake turns orange, has traces of dangerous chemicals

Posted at 11:00 PM, Mar 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-30 23:00:59-04

NOVI, Mich. (WXYZ) — Dramatically lower water levels, orange colored water, and now traces of dangerous forever chemicals.

Those are just some of the problems neighbors in Novi say they’ve had to endure on their beloved Garfield Lake, and now they want answers from the city and the state.

Web Extras | Garfield Lake, Novi

They waited for years to buy their dream homes next to a beautiful lake.

“It was gorgeous,” said Remko Atteveld.

But now Atteveld and his neighbors in Novi fear Garfield Lake may be ruined, and they say their confidence in city government is gone.

“I just don’t trust them anymore,” said Jim Bullock.

Remko Atteveld and Jim Bullock say they first noticed something was wrong with the lake in the spring of 2020, when the water levels dropped by several feet.

Then they found out that as part of Novi’s 9 Mile Sewer Project that had been underway since February of 2019, city contractors were pumping millions of gallons of water out of the ground every day in order to install a massive sewer line. The permit from the state allowed them to pull 8 million gallons of water a day out of the ground.

Novi city officials say the $9 million project experienced repeated delays. It was supposed to take 18 months, but instead lasted 3 years.

“That’s in my opinion what caused the lake levels to drop,” said Atteveld.

Remko and Jim say in the beginning, they couldn’t get anyone from the city to address their concerns.

So they started documenting the water levels themselves and started posting their findings on social media. They say that got the city’s attention.

“We got calls, text messages, to take them down to stop doing this,” said Bullock.

The neighbors say the city’s response was to start pumping the groundwater from the sewer project back into the lake. But neighbors say iron oxide in that water turned the lake, docks and shorelines orange.

“My neighbor had his grandkids over and they were running around through his yard… All of his grandkids' feet were turning orange. So it definitely is a concern,” said Bullock.

“We had asked the city to stop pumping water in until they figured out the reason. What the city subsequently did is they moved the water line about 6 inches over to my neighbor’s yard and then at 11:00 at night they continued pumping. So instead of having a conversation or dialogue, that’s the kind of tactics that they were using as they were pumping water," said Atteveld. "We want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else."

Atteveld and Bullock say they’re also concerned about what they think may be damage to the adjacent wetland.

“We have huge trees that have been falling over,” said Bullock. “It’s changing the landscape, it’s changing our property value. Not for the better.”

Novi city officials say the ecological study their consultant conducted did not find significant damage to the wetland. That consultant is the same company that consulted on the sewer project, according to city officials.

Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) recently tested nearby wells and the surface water of the lake for the forever chemicals known as PFAS. State officials say the wells were clear, but some trace amounts of PFAS were found in the surface water. An EGLE spokesman says the amounts of 4.1 parts per trillion (ppt) are well below the state water quality criteria of 12 ppt. But the geologist the neighbors are consulting with says it could be a sign of a broader problem.

“My question is where is the source of the PFAS contamination? And does it get higher somewhere else,” said geologist Mike Wilczynski.

“The levels of PFAS are well below the standard and since they’re not in the ground water there’s no reason to believe that we contributed PFAS levels during the dewatering,” said Novi Director of Public Works Jeff Herczeg.

Herczeg said the city has tried to be transparent with the residents, and says now that the dewatering is finally done, they expect the lake levels will return to normal. But it could take years.

“We’ve tested the water for 10 metals that specifically EGLE requires, iron was a little high in there. It’s more of an aesthetic issue than it is any other concern,” said Herczeg.

Neighbors say that’s not enough.

“What are you going to do to make them whole,” asked 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.

“I can only say that any reasonable requests that we can meet that were a product or a byproduct of the project, the city is committed to respond,” said Herczeg.

An EGLE spokesman says they have no reason to believe there are significant environmental or health concerns with the sewer project or the water quality at Garfield Lake.

Neighbors on Garfield Lake say they still want additional testing to be done.

Here is additional information from EGLE:

· EGLE has been in frequent contact with residents, the city, local elected officials and the residents’ consultant on this issue.

· EGLE believes the important sewer work/dewatering at least partially responsible for significant lake level drops in the recent past.

· The iron oxide introduced when the dewatering water was returned to the lake resulted in significant discoloration. While it is unsightly, it represents no health risk to humans or aquatic life.

· The project is completed, the lake level is returning, and it is quite likely the iron oxide will dissipate over time.

· No violations or corrective orders are anticipated at this time.

The 7 Investigators asked EGLE if they plan to do fish testing in the lake to see if PFAS is present in wildlife. Here is their response:

“While the lake currently meets water quality values for PFOS as described below, EGLE’s Water Resources Division is evaluating whether to conduct fish monitoring at Garfield Lake. As an aside, Michigan’s water quality standards are determined using the best available science, including an assessment of a chemical’s potential accumulation in fish and other wildlife,” said EGLE Communications Manager Hugh McDiarmid Jr.

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