By Mark Ribble of the Southpoint Sun
As of Monday morning, emergency crews were still on scene in downtown Wheatley trying to source a gas leak.
What started with a local resident calling in a strong rotten egg odour June 2 eventually became a state of emergency for the village.
As many as 27 residents were displaced as officials worked toward a solution.
The leak appears to be underneath and directly behind the Pogue Irish Pub, which has taken centre stage in this local drama. Erie Street North was blocked off from Talbot Street to Elm Street and several residences on Elm Street were cordoned off.
The Pogue closed its doors last month after battling through the pandemic, offering takeout and — when allowed — indoor dining.
Officials from the Ministry of the Environment were on site Friday and a special provincial HAZMAT team was brought in to further investigate.
The gas in question is hydrogen sulphide, which is highly toxic and flammable. It has the smell of rotten eggs and may have reached the surface from a long-forgotten underground well.
Hydro to the area was shut off last Tuesday evening and was not restored as of Monday morning.
Businesses affected included the Car Barn Tavern, MJ’s Pizza, Legion Branch 324, the new Wheatley Hotel and the Wheatley Subway location.
Car Barn owner Barry Broadbent was on scene Thursday trying to salvage some of the perishables within his tavern.
“It’s just another knock on the forehead after dealing with COVID,” he said.
Broadbent and several volunteers were able to get into the building after firefighters swept the premises and took gas level readings. Once they gave the thumbs up, Broadbent was able to empty the freezers and coolers to trucks waiting outside. It is not known if MJ’s and Subway owners were allowed in to their restaurants, as gas levels there were very high.
The frozen goods were taken to Family Tradition Foods who offered freezer space, while Loop Fisheries found room for the non-frozen perishables. It’s been a community effort all around.
Other members of this tight knit community have stepped up to help as well.
Wheatley BIA Co-chair Mike Renwick put his own restaurant — Renny’s Smokehouse — on hold for the day Thursday to help his neighbours. He was among the group helping Broadbent clear out his tavern.
“We’re here to help each other, “ he said. “It’s what you do in a small town.”
Chair of the Active Citizens of Wheatley, Lauren Anderson, spearheaded a movement to feed the firefighters and officials on scene until the issue is resolved.
She took to Facebook over the weekend, asking for donations that would allow her to purchase meals for those on scene to help lessen the burden on the municipality and on the firefighters themselves.
The vigil at the four corners continued through press time as Chatham-Kent police, fire, the Ministry of the Environment and other agencies searched for a solution.
“Hydrogen sulphide is flammable and it’s toxic, especially when it’s confined,” said Chatham-Kent Fire Chief Chris Case. “So we are using extreme precaution.”
Case said that this issue has been seen all over Southwestern Ontario for a number of years.
Chatham-Kent Mayor, Darrin Canniff, declared a State-of-Emergency on June 2.