Despite a $2-million pledge from the provincial government to help the businesses of downtown Wheatley, the funds have not flowed, unlike the hydrogen sulphide gas that periodically seeps out of the ground there.
However, that is all changing.
Stuart McFadden, director of economic development for the municipality, said a disbursement agreement came together Nov. 1. The agreement made $800,000 available immediately in the first phase of financial relief for the three-dozen businesses impacted by the Aug. 26 explosion and evacuation that followed.
The evacuation order remains in place at this time.
The bulk of the funding, $1.2 million, will be available when the evacuation order is lifted, McFadden said.
“We’re trying to get them some cash now to help them sustain themselves,” he said of impacted business owners. “But there are going to be some incredible costs when they go back into their buildings. They’ve been sitting vacant for a couple of months.”
He said the $1.2 million is to be used to pay for what insurance will not cover for the impacted businesses.
The opportunity to apply for funding ends Nov. 15, McFadden said. There are staff at the Wheatley Resource Centre ready to handle applications.
“We want to expedite getting the cash into the hands of the people who need it,” McFadden said. “The money is with the best intentions. It’s there to support the people. We did one-on-one interviews with the impacted business owners. We listened to them and are trying to meet that need.”
McFadden is aware of the fact there is a class-action suit in the works over the explosion, which followed multiple gas leaks and evacuations over the summer. He said that suit is out of his hands.
“We all know it’s out there. I can’t do anything about that. My job was to work with the province to figure out how we could distribute the funds to help them out,” he said of the impacted business owners.
“This program is not a one-size-fits all program. Some will say it’s not enough, and I don’t disagree with them,” McFadden added. “We’re doing the best with what’s available.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the $2 million in business relief funding following a personal visit to Wheatley in September.
Experts are still trying to identify the source of the leak.