Chatham-Kent intends to buy property in evacuation zones in the Wheatley Blast
Nearly a year and a half after an explosion rocked downtown Wheatley, some property owners in an area that remains evacuated are now being urged to sell.
The Chatham-Kent community has reached out to 11 property owners on the corner of Erie Street North and Talbot Road East, the block where an explosion related to a gas leak took place in August 2021. The buildings there are part of the city’s evacuation zone and stand empty, along with many other nearby commercial properties that have not yet reopened to the public.
Chatham-Kent’s chief legal officer, David Taylor, told CBC News that the community was advised to purchase the properties from consultants so they can add more security infrastructure to the area.
A hydrogen sulfide leak from gas wells in the area is believed to have caused the blast, which destroyed two buildings, injured 20 people and displaced nearly 100 homes and dozens of businesses.
“The purpose [of these discussions] is really just a probing at this point to determine if these property owners are willing to sell their properties,” Taylor said.
Taylor said that in terms of safety, the system there will contain any gas that might escape and will go through some “technical systems” that can remove some of its potentially harmful elements.
“So all of this is infrastructure that needs space and could have emissions points and things like that… so just having more space than what the community currently owns, which is just the parking lot, is just going to give those experts a little more flexibility to have such security systems.” install,” he said.
The Wheatley resident was tasked with restoring the town to what it was
He added that these next steps could also be a way for “community members to contribute to the site’s future vision.” He said the community thinks this could help the community heal and move forward.
And that’s exactly what Stephen Ingram is hoping for.
Ingram is not one of the property owners in the evacuated zone, but he lives down the street from the site of the explosion and was subsequently evicted from his home for eight months.
Ingram is one of the community members who are part of a proposed $100 million class action lawsuit against the community and HSE Integrated Ltd in November 2022. – a company hired to find the source of the gas leak – was initiated.
At the moment, Ingram said he wants to see steps being taken to get the city back to what it once was and thinks it could be a good move.
“It’s still not the town we moved to five years ago and it certainly doesn’t have the personality anymore. I’m all positive,” Ingram said.
“I think we have to … stop pointing fingers and make the city back to what it was, or recover and do the best we can.”
While the streets have reopened to traffic, Ingram said it’s not the same as commercial stores and restaurants remain empty and the community no longer congregates in the area.
Ingram added that he felt this was a “very difficult negotiation” and likely to be subject to debate.
At the same time, Ingram said the push to buy those properties could be a “kneeling response to the lawsuit” or legal advice to do something to “calm the situation down.”
Taylor said he couldn’t comment on the ongoing lawsuit, but said buying the properties “is not some sort of strategy to make a profit in the lawsuit.” He said it was based solely on expert recommendations to “control more of the site” for security reasons.
Also, according to Taylor, there is no set deadline for property owners to say whether or not they would sell, and for now the municipality is only collecting information to present to the city council at a later date.
The community will hold a community meeting for the city on March 1 to hear experts share more about the future of the site.