AVON PARK — Residents on Lake Denton saw something they didn’t like going into the spring-fed lake three weeks ago: A plane and a shipping container.

They got them pulled out in less than a week, thanks to complaints to and an investigation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection into what was touted as a set of artificial reefs for divers, but which residents considered to be no more than pollution of their lake.

At 1:45 a.m. April 30 — a Thursday morning — several divers unloaded a shipping container from the boat ramp into Lake Denton, floated it out into the lake and sank it where divers go to get certified, said Capt. Charles David Simpson Jr., Army ROTC instructor at Lake Wales High School and lake resident for nearly 20 years.

He said via email that it allegedly was used to make an artificial reef.

The problem, Simpson told the Highlands News-Sun, is that they didn’t have permission from the state, nor did they have it inspected for harmful items or substances.

“Hopefully it will be removed as soon as possible to prevent any environmental damage to the lake and to keep the lake beautiful for our children and grandchildren,” Simpson said.

Simpson said he called the state environmental office, which gave him their Sebring office number. He spoke with “Alexandra,” who told him the divers did not have permission to sink anything in the lake and would have to remove it.

They did, on May 5, the following Tuesday, said Dave and Annabel Humble, 25-year lakeside residents.

Alexandra Kuchta of media/external affairs for Florida DEP told the Highlands News-Sun on May 4, via email, that the State Watch Office received a report regarding a possible release of potential hazardous materials in Lake Denton.

“Through a thorough investigation, it was determined that Containers for Coral (the responsible party) submerged a shipping container and an airplane fuselage in Lake Denton using lift bags as part of a pilot run for a future artificial reef project,” Kuchta wrote.

Such “reefs” are subject to DEP authorization prior to being deployed in a waterway, but she said Containers for Coral did not obtain that authorization, and would have to remove it immediately.

“Water is our state’s most vital quality and the Department is committed to its protection,” Kuchta wrote, adding that people can report suspected violations to DEP Regulatory Programs at 850-245-2036, Air Resource Management at 850-717-9000, Water Resource Management at 850-245-8336 and Waste Management at 850-245-8705.

Lake Denton has had a long history of popularity with SCUBA divers. Years of cars parked along the road prompted the Highlands County Board of County Commission many years ago to set up parking at the boat ramp.

People in general came to the lake to party, which also resulted in litter and activities not welcome in a family neighborhood.

For the most part, since the county set rules and had deputies patrol for unwelcome behavior, there have been no problems, Dave Humble said.

“Our main complaint with divers is those without a flag with them,” Dave Humble said.

A floating flag lets boaters on the lake know if anyone is under them, and helps them keep a safe distance. Without it, people can get hurt.

People on Lake Denton take pride in it and are very protective of it, Dave Humble said. Most lake residents have lived there for decades, if not generations. Their house was his in-laws’ for 15 years before them.

“Very seldom does a house come up for sale here,” Dave Humble said.