Safety sake cited for Ford’s low-key explosion site visit
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s unannounced visit to the downtown Wheatley explosion site on Tuesday was kept quiet until after the fact due to safety concerns, according to Chatham-Kent officials.
Ford and Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry Greg Rickford surveyed the area of the Aug. 26 explosion along with top municipal and emergency officials.
“We didn’t want to create a scene there. Have a lot of people showing up,” says Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff.
He says the meeting was positive and is encouraged the province will take action.
“We still didn’t get very close to the building, but we got a little closer than what the barricades were, but you get the idea,’ Canniff says.
The majority of Chatham-Kent council and the media were not informed of the visit until after it happened.
“I have to admit there’s a little bit of frustration there.” says South Kent councillor Trevor Thompson. “I understand from the Premier’s point of view and he has security issues he has to face,” Thompson explains. “I can appreciate that it had to be kept a little quiet. I am frustrated though that I did find out that he was here on Twitter.”
Both West Kent councillors were on hand. Councillor Melissa Harrigan says she’s optimistic the province has a better understanding of what the Wheatley community has endured in the days following the blast.
“I left the meeting feeling very confident that the premiers office and the minister were now in a better state of awareness of what we’re experiencing here in Chatham-Kent,” she says.
Harrigan says some Wheatley residents were brought to tears while sharing their experiences with the Premier, saying Doug Ford gave his personal cell number to the BIA co-chairs and active citizen leads.
“People really appreciated that, but it also gives us that direct contact to hold the premier accountable to the commitments that he made verbally to the people of Wheatley,” she says.
Fire chief Chris Case says the scene remains stable at this time but history has indicated that could change quickly.
“We still have eight firefighters working around the clock. Four of those are from the Provincial Hazmat team,” Case says.
On Tuesday, the ministry indicated it had hired the consulting firm Golder Associates to conduct a technical analysis of the area where the explosion occurred.
The ministry also continues to fund 24-hour monitoring system in the area.
Chief Case says the investigation process to determine the cause of the hydrogen sulphide gas leak that led to the explosion remains slow and methodical but adds it’s being done safe.
He says he’s grateful the province and Premier Ford came to the community.
“He promised action, which was music to everybody’s ears.”