Questions remain a week after Wheatley explosion, but Ontario ministry hasn't made time to answer them

·2 min read
It's been nearly a week since an explosion, believed to have been caused by a gas leak, left 20 people injured and two buildings destroyed in Wheatley, Ont. (Mike Evans/CBC - image credit)
It's been nearly a week since an explosion, believed to have been caused by a gas leak, left 20 people injured and two buildings destroyed in Wheatley, Ont. (Mike Evans/CBC - image credit)

Nearly a week after an explosion rocked downtown Wheatley, Ont., the source of the gas leak that's believed to have caused the blast hasn't been found, and the ministry overseeing it hasn't addressed the public or made itself available to CBC, despite repeated requests for interviews.

The fire chief with the municipality of Chatham-Kent said Wednesday gas is no longer being detected at the site of the explosion, and excavation is underway to "methodically" remove the layers of rubble. The Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal is investigating the cause of the explosion, and a technical expert is on site to ensure the work is being done safely.

Since the Aug. 26 explosion that injured 20 people, destroyed two buildings and displaced many business owners and residents, CBC has made several calls and email requests for an interview with Greg Rickford, minister of northern development, mines, natural resources and forestry.

On Wednesday, his press secretary would only say in an email that, "The minister is unavailable for an interview today. I will keep you apprised of new information as it becomes available."

Logan Turner / CBC
Logan Turner / CBC

On Friday, the office of the solicitor general did release a statement saying the Ontario government would "continue to work closely with the municipality of Chatham-Kent" and provincial staff have been helping to support Chatham-Kent to investigate the cause of the explosion and seek possible solutions.

However, the ministry has yet to face any questions from the public. Only municipal employees were present at Wednesday's media briefing.

Chatham-Kent municipality has maintained it does not have the technical expertise or the legal mandate to deal with situations where there are leaks of hydrogen sulphide gas, and that responsibility lies with the province.

In the months leading up to the explosion, the municipality was calling for the province to take a leadership role in finding the source of the gas leak. Chatham-Kent's chief administrative officer, Don Shropshire, said the province had been working to bring in technical experts before the explosion.

"I want to give the province some space — it is a very difficult thing to identify — there are several potential causes," Shropshire said.

After the explosion, the municipality renewed its request to the province, asking it to act immediately to secure an expert that could provide recommendations about how to avoid another explosion in the area.

"With the explosion, we had also added an additional request [to the ministry] to say we need your support immediately on site to support the investigation and securing of the site," Shropshire said.

"We would have welcomed the province in June, but we're very happy that they're here now."

The municipality said it could hold a meeting with residents in the town as soon as this weekend, and provincial representatives would be invited to attend.

"We would welcome their participation," Shropshire said.

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