Paul Murchison, director of transportation with highways and public works, stands near a now-closed bridge at kilometre 36.8 along an unmaintained section of Annie Lake Road on June 10. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Another bridge has been blocked off along Annie Lake Road

Some groups say this will hinder access to the backcountry

There are now two permanently blocked bridges along the unmaintained stretch of Annie Lake Road — and both could be removed eventually.

On June 10, a bridge at kilometre 37 had a barricade put in. Another, found less than 10 kilometres up, has had a barricade in place since 2014.

Both aren’t safe to carry the weight of vehicles, said Paul Murchison, director of transportation with the Yukon’s Department of Highways and Public Works, which is a public safety concern.

“They’re structurally not sound because of rot occurring, but as well as foundation failure,” he said, adding that the bridges, which are between 30 and 50 years old, won’t immediately be dismantled.

A plan to do that is on the table, though, Murchison said.

“To fully remove the risk you have to remove the structures.”

The lead-up to the most recent closure has occurred over the last week. It was during this timeframe that the bridge was inspected and warning signs were set up.

Notices to stakeholders – to Carcross/Tagish First Nation, for instance, which has traditional territory in the area — also went out, Murchison said.

But some groups are calling foul, saying the department didn’t do a good enough job with that.

Gord Zealand, the executive director of the Yukon Fish and Game Association, said he wasn’t notified of the change.

Notice, he said, should have been sent out to a greater number of groups “prior to someone arbitrarily deciding to close it down without any other thoughts.”

Getting rid of the bridges prevents people from accessing a popular recreational area, Zealand said.

“It’s a widely used area, not just by hunters and fishers, but people that are canoeing, kayaking, photography. There’s all types of people who utilize this particular watershed and road access.”

Asked to what extent the department consulted the public and businesses before the decision was made, Murchison said, “Yeah, the closure affects a number of people, for sure. It wasn’t a consultation at this point, just a notification that the bridge was being closed.”

He went on to say it’s not an option to permit people, particularly in vehicles, to go across the bridge.

“Our plans are right now only to protect the public.”

Murchison said bridge replacements run somewhere between $300,000 to $500,000.

He suggested this is too expensive.

“We also have to consider total capital budget.”

Zealand disagrees.

“It’s just a lot easier to say there’s a problem rather than fix it,” he said.

The bridges, he continued, are “a public resource. I know a lot of people who use that watershed every week.”

The Watson River Bridge, which is on the maintained section of road, is unaffected by this change, along with the Bailey Bridge at kilometre 26.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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