Wheatley gas leak leaves residents, businesses in limbo

·3 min read
The public has been told to avoid the area of Wheatley where the gas leak has occurred.  (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)
The public has been told to avoid the area of Wheatley where the gas leak has occurred. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)

A state of emergency declared in Wheatley over a gas leak has left some residents and businesses wondering what happens next, and when they might be able to return to the area.

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent says 27 people, as well as several businesses in the downtown area, were told to leave.

Ivan Pelletier and his three tenants were informed Thursday morning. He's been staying at a friend's house in Kingsville.

"There's not much we can do about it. We just have to wait and see," he said.

The situation arose on Wednesday afternoon when the owner of a restaurant on Erie Street North noticed a rotten-egg-like odour and something bubbling up from a basement drain.

Crews later confirmed the presence of hydrogen sulfide, a toxic and flammable but naturally occurring gas, in sufficient quantities to warrant the clearing of the area, according to officials in the municipality.

The mayor declared a state of emergency on Thursday morning. Firefighters and other emergency officials including a provincial hazmat team are onsite Friday.

Michael Renwick is co-chair of the Wheatley BIA. He also owns a restaurant that has not been affected by the evacuation order, Renny's The Village Smokehouse.
Michael Renwick is co-chair of the Wheatley BIA. He also owns a restaurant that has not been affected by the evacuation order, Renny's The Village Smokehouse.(Jacob Barker/CBC)

Michael Renwick, a business owner and co-chair of the Wheatley Business Improvement Area (BIA), said Thursday that seven or eight establishments have had to shut down.

"In the middle of COVID, this isn't something that we want to see happen," he said. "These businesses have already been adversely affected with shutdowns and lockdowns across the province, and for something like this to happen, with the unknown of what the actual outcome of this might be, it's not good for anybody."

Since electricity has been shut off due to the risk of the gas igniting, any perishables requiring refrigeration are at risk of spoiling.

Barry Broadbent owns the Car Barn restaurant on Talbot Road, one of the buildings that has been closed. He said he's making plans after being offered some locations to store his refrigerated and frozen product.

Barry Broadbent spoke to CBC News outside his restaurant, the Car Barn, on Thursday.
Barry Broadbent spoke to CBC News outside his restaurant, the Car Barn, on Thursday.(Jacob Barker/CBC)

"We're big in broasted chicken, so we've got a lot of broasted chicken sitting there, and we're preparing for the weekend and we have a couple of catering jobs, but unfortunately, we're going to have to put them on hold this week," he said on Thursday.

"So the main thing is to get that product in the proper refrigeration and/or freezing, and we'll just have to go from there and see how it goes, but it doesn't seem like they're going to be letting us into our buildings to open anytime soon."

Chatham-Kent fire chief Chris Case told CBC Radio's Windsor Morning Friday the exact source of the leak remains under investigation. Hydrogen sulfide gas is found in the ground and there are many abandoned wells in the region.

"Right now, we're working with a range of partners including the province to try and work out exactly where this gas is coming from. We know it's coming out the ground between two buildings next door to the pub and we also know that it's still coming up through the drains of the public house."

Case said once the source has been identified, a solution will have to be put in place in order to prevent the gas from leaking from the ground into the atmosphere.

There's no timeline for when the issue will be resolved.

"At this moment I couldn't give any indication about when normality may be restored," he said.

Dr. David Colby, medical officer of health for Chatham-Kent, said Thursday that the gas has a strong odour that can be detected at low levels.