By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
When it comes to the Wheatley crisis, Premier Doug Ford is plugged in.
According to Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff, Ford has been calling once a week to stay on top of what’s happening in regard to the community’s ongoing hydrogen sulphide problem.
Canniff said the gesture is much appreciated, as well as being “very unusual.”
“He is very dedicated to getting a solution in Wheatley, safely and in a timely manner,” Canniff said at a media conference last week, adding the call involves top officials and administrators.
Problems with the toxic and flammable gas have been ongoing since leaking gas was discovered in June. Even though the situation was being monitored 24-7, a large explosion rocked the downtown in late August at the site of the former Pogue restaurant.
Ford and Ontario’s Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forest Greg Rickford paid a visit to Wheatley Sept. 21 to see the damage first-hand.
A number of residents have been unable to return to their homes because of the blast, which also impacted some businesses. Municipal officials have been co-ordinating efforts to ensure the displaced are cared for.
Currently, the municipality is co-ordinating efforts to help residents visit their homes and gather some items.
Thomas Kelly, general manager of infrastructure and engineering, said the gas leak did in fact delay the re-entry appointments.
“Safety is of the highest priority,” said Kelly, adding the gas situation has to be stable for at least 24 hours before re-entry can proceed.
The leaks are presumed to be coming from an old gas well, located close to the site of the explosion that destroyed two buildings.
So far, the province has contributed more than $5 million to the Wheatley effort.
In November, the province announced $3.8 million in funding for Wheatley residents who are displaced.
Earlier in the year, the province allocated $2-million to help business owners get back on their feet.
In the meantime, continuous gas monitoring is ongoing as investigators continue to probe the source.