Gas leak stops drilling of wells near EMU COB

Last week, the Ypsilanti City Council passed an ordinance forbidding anyone to drill for drinking water near Eastern Michigan University’s College of Business; closing the book on a 1980s gas leak on the property where the College of Business now stands.

Before the Gary Owen College of Business building was constructed at 300 W. Michigan Ave., there used to stand a Shell gas station on that property.

Like many stations of that era, the underground storage tank began to leak. The majority of the spill has been cleaned up, but some of the gas remains in the soil.

According to Shell Oil representative Kayla Macke, the storage tank was leaking when Shell sold the property to EMU.

“There was a suspected release from the underground tank system in 1980,” Macke said. “The station was subsequently closed and the site sold. When Eastern Michigan University later began its construction activities on the location in the mid 1980’s, petroleum contaminated soil was discovered and reported to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.”

Due to how long ago EMU purchased the property, the school’s Director Media of Relations, Geoff Larcom, said there are no current members in the administration who can “adequately reconstruct the situation” but records said, “appropriate measures were taken then and appropriate cautions have
been urged now.”

The ordinance to prevent water drilling was written by the Johnson and Bell Ltd., a law firm in Chicago representing Shell Oil.

According to city council records, the city of Ypsilanti requested,” any legislation associated with this proposal will be prepared by Johnson & Bell.”

The city council approved the ordinance in a 5 to 1 decision.

Terry Hiske from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said the spill is not a threat to the public health.

Shell Oil has been working with MDEQ throughout the 1980s and 1990s to clean up as much of the spill as possible.

To clean up the mess, they ran a remediation system in the years following the spill’s discovery.

“They dug up quite a bit of soil…They pumped the ground water out of the soil, and ran it through a carbon filter,” Hiske said. “It was drinking water quality when it was filtered.”

Mayor Paul Schreiber supported the ordinance.

“We are looking toward the future to make sure the safety of residents is protected, and to make sure that the information about this particular area is known for the future,” Schreiber said.

Councilman Brian Robb had the only opposing vote.

“The city has never seen the need to have an ordinance of this kind…I don’t like the idea that Shell is getting involved with our government just to cover themselves,” Robb said.

When the ordinance goes into effect, only a two-block area around the College of Business will be affected.

The two blocks affected are between North Hamilton Street and Washington Avenue. Pearl Street makes the northern border of the affected area and West Michigan Avenue acts as the southern border.

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