Wheatley evacuation zone to be reduced this week

Reduced evacuation zone. (Municipality of Chatham-Kent)

Work at the site of an explosion in Wheatley has reached a stage where the evacuation zone can now be reduced.

The announcement was made during a virtual public meeting on Saturday, which provided over 190 residents with an update on the investigation and other timelines.

Officials said restaging the new evacuation zone will begin Wednesday, April 13 and start at the northwest corner, at Foster Street, and move clockwise around the zone.

“It’s been determined that outside of a distance of 50 metres from any [gas] emission point, evacuation is no longer required,” said Alberta-based engineer Theresa Watson. “It is because of the installation of the monitoring well, the gathering and venting system — which are monitored 24 hours a day — that we are now confident that the evacuation zone can be reduced and the hard work of recovery can start.”

Monitoring will continue at the boundaries of the zone to ensure any emissions are quickly detected and assessed.

“The team is working hard to help complete the investigation and mitigation to allow for further reduction in the future,” Watson said.

Fencing around the new zone is anticipated to take a day or two.

“For owners of properties that remain in the evacuation zone, the municipality will accommodate limited access for those wanting access, but only to properties that are deemed safe to enter,” municipal officials said. “Access will be limited to certain periods of time when on-site conditions allow for it, based on the investigation work that is ongoing.”

Residents and businesses that will have access to their properties outside the evacuation zone are being asked to contact their insurance companies and discuss the next steps.

Municipal case managers will also be calling each evacuated household to provide guidance and discuss their individual circumstances. Economic development officers will reach out to businesses in the coming days.

The Provincial Wheatley Resident Assistance Program will continue to provide help for all households that remain evacuated.

“[It’s] certainly a good day in terms of moving forward within Wheatley,” said General Manager of Community Human Services April Rietdyk. “This is going to be an emotional time as we get ready to re-enter our homes. We need to continue to support our neighbours who are not able to go back home yet, while we work diligently on the site to get them back as well.”

Those who would like assistance in completing a home pre-inspection, including an initial gas reading and visual inspection, can call their case manager.

Case managers can be reached during business hours at 519-351-8573.