Paul Murchison, director of the Yukon government’s transportation engineering branch, talks to media about the cancellation of the Dawson City ice bridge project during a press conference in Whitehorse on Jan. 31, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Hopes melt for ice bridge at Dawson City, Yukon, as territory ends project

Yukon government pulls out after snowcat sinks

The Yukon government is pulling out of a project to build an ice bridge across the Yukon River that would have provided a winter-time connection between Dawson City and the little suburb of West Dawson.

A snowcat broke through the ice bridge and sank last month while it was under construction.

Paul Murchison, director the Highways Department’s transportation engineering branch, says the territory has already spent about three quarters of the $200,000 budgeted for the project and had to consider the value of the estimated two-month lifespan of the bridge with the cost of constructing it.

He says successful completion depends on factors that are out of the government’s control, including river hydraulics, ice conditions, water and air temperature.

Ice bridges at Dawson City have always formed naturally as the Yukon River freezes, allowing about 100 residents of West Dawson to drive between the two communities, but ice has not formed as usual for the last several years.

A homemade ice foot bridge allows pedestrians to reach work and shops in the community, but emergency vehicles can’t access West Dawson until a government-run ferry resumes after breakup.

The contractor hired to build the ice bridge will now begin removing equipment and cleaning up.

“I expect it will be a little bit of money as far as demobilizing from the site so if there is a little bit of money left over, it won’t be spent,” Murchison says of the $50,000 remaining in the project budget.

A permanent bridge has not been discussed and probably won’t get future consideration, he says.

At a meeting in August, residents speculated that a growing gravel bar in the river north of Dawson City traps ice and forms a choke point there, rather than at the usual point between Dawson and West Dawson, where the river slightly bends and narrows.

The Yukon government unsuccessfully tried to apply what it called an “ice Band-Aid” over the open water at Dawson last winter by spraying ice water to try and encourage ice formation.

The contractor this year used booms to do that and the plan seemed to be working, with a 45-centimetre-thick slab of ice forming. But work was halted when the snowcat unexpectedly shattered the slab while clearing snow off it in January.

No one was hurt but the heavy equipment remains at the bottom of the river, although efforts will be made to retrieve it. (CKRW)

The Canadian Press


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