'Rebuilding their lives:' Nearly 1 year after Wheatley explosion, final well getting plugged
Some people still displaced from homes, businesses
Nearly one year since an explosion in downtown Wheatley injured 20 people and demolished two buildings, the final well on the property is getting plugged.
Since a suspected hydrogen sulphide explosion rocked the core of Wheatley on Aug. 26 last year, officials have been working to secure the site and cap three wells that are believed to have been the source of the gas.
The explosion destroyed two buildings and displaced more than 100 people from their homes and businesses.
In a news release Thursday, the municipality of Chatham-Kent said the capping of the third and final well has begun. This well is the one that was closest to where the gas release took place and capping it is expected to take about three weeks.
During the capping process if people smell gas in the area, the municipality said they should immediately call 911.
Don Shropshire, the former chief administrative officer (CAO) of Chatham-Kent, said that before capping the municipality needed to ensure that there was a venting system in place so that if there is gas beneath the surface, "it can still be released safely."
He said this took a few additional weeks, but they are finally nearing the end of this work.
Shropshire retired from his role as CAO in April, but said he was asked to continue to support the ongoing situation in Wheatley.
Moving forward, Shropshire said the municipality is waiting on a report from the company that the province hired to do investigative work on the site.
He said they are looking for recommendations from the report in terms of what should be done in the mid- to long-term when it comes to monitoring the site and ensuring there are no other gas releases.
"We are expecting that in the immediate vicinity on the municipal property we'll continue to have a monitoring well and we'll continue to have gas monitoring equipment in Wheatley to make sure we monitor things over the next several months," Shropshire said.
According to the municipality, 17 homeowners still have not returned to their properties. The municipality said some of them might be in the evacuation zone, while others might be outside of it but having issues with insurance.
"For the people that are living in the community that have been out of their homes and businesses, it has taken a really long time and there's no question that it has weighed heavily on folks," Shropshire said.
In the coming weeks, Shropshire said the municipality is looking to hold a town hall for residents where they can ask questions and learn more about the future of the site.
"There's still a lot of work that we have to do with the community to make sure that people feel like they can start rebuilding their lives and get back to what they consider a sense of normalcy and we're committed to making sure that happens," he said.