For more than five years, makeshift clotheslines, tents and scattered beer bottles have replaced trails and pedestrians on Kishwoot Island.
A large graffiti-defaced sign cautions people from crossing the dilapidated bridge, which spans the Yukon River between Shipyards Park and Kishwoot Island.
After years of neglect, the island may be transformed from blight into beauty.
But first, the city and territory need to get around to cleaning it up.
The Ta’an Kwach’an gained land claim rights over Kishwoot Island in the early ‘90s but the land has yet to be transferred from the Yukon government.
They won’t take control of the land until the Yukon government fixes the bridge and the city cleans up the island, said Chief Ruth Massie.
“We want the land to go back to its natural state,” said Massie. “It’s quite a mess.”
The task of maintaining the bridge and island trails have been bounced around between the city and the Yukon government.
“If someone were to fall from the bridge and hurt themselves, it’s not clear which government would be hit with the lawsuit,” said Pat Molloy, the Yukon’s director of community infrastructure.
“That’s kind of a grey area because the ownership of the bridge has never really been clearly delineated.”
The 25-year-old bridge fell into disrepair because of the overwhelming cost and confusion over which level of government was supposed to service it.
The city currently has a 30-year lease on the island from the Yukon government. It expires in 2021.
The bridge wasn’t included in the lease, but was still looked after by the city.
“We were maintaining the bridge and taking responsibility for it. But then we were faced with the question of, ‘Do we want to spend a lot of money to fix this?’” said Pat Ross, land development supervisor for the city.
The cost of fixing the suspension bridge has been pegged at $275,000.
With both the territory and city unwilling to pay the cost, both governments sat on their hands until they knew what the Ta’an Kwach’an Council wanted to do with the land.
In a meeting last week with the city and the Yukon government, the Ta’an Kwach’an expressed interest in replacing the existing bridge with a new one.
“We want to keep the area park-like so that people can enjoy it,” said Massie, adding that long ago the area was used as a site for fishing camps.
Some ideas that have come up at Ta’an Kwach’an meetings are to create a picnic area, a gift shop, or restaurant with a deck on the land.
One person even suggested opening a casino on the island.
“I was really surprised to hear that, and when it was suggested (at the meeting), people rolled their eyes,” said Massie. “I really doubt it will happen.”
When the lease is cancelled between the city and the territory and the land is transferred to the Ta’an Kwach’an, the First Nation will explore what it wants to do with the island, said Massie.
In the meantime, Massie wants to see the city patrolling the property.
“People are camping and partying on that island, which they shouldn’t be doing,” she said.
“If we get a patrol in that area it could curb the after-hour activities.”
There is concern amongst First Nations about the activities on the riverbank and the lack of visibility of the island, said Massie, citing the disappearance of Angel Carlick in 2007.
“When we were doing a search for Angel, it was unreal what we found on that riverbank,” she said.
The city is saying it has no issue with cleaning up the island.
“The TKC is saying, ‘We want it cleaned up to our satisfaction before we take over the island.’ And we’re saying, ‘No problem at all,’” said Doug Hnatiuk, projects and community development co-ordinator for the city.
“Litter pickup is a pretty straightforward thing, but we’re expecting it might be more than just litter pickup.”
However, it could be a challenge cleaning up tires, shopping carts and the decrepit footbridges crossing small creeks on the island, said Hnatiuk.
“We’re thinking it might be good to do the cleanup in the winter so that whatever is found there can easily be carted back over the ice,” he said.
In November 2007, the city requested the Yukon government cancel its lease on Kishwoot.
“The city has financial constraints and we need to prioritize, and Kishwoot Island is always seen as an add-on,” said Hnatiuk
Three years earlier, the reconstruction of the bridge had been guaranteed by a grant through the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund.
“The application was approved and now that money is just sitting there waiting to be used,” said Molloy.
The application was put forward by three levels of government, but when leadership changed, the motivation to repair the bridge slid away, said Molloy.
The deadline for accessing the money is March of 2010; if the money isn’t used before that time, the funding disappears.
Now the city and territory are struggling to finish up negotiations and move forward on the bridge reconstruction and island cleanup before that deadline.
“Something is transpiring and we’re working towards that deadline,” said Hnatiuk, suggesting negotiations will wrap up in a month or two.
Contact Vivian Belik at