City supports status quo for Riverdale footbridge

Whitehorse city council has voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping ATVs and snowmobiles off the Rotary Centennial Bridge, almost two years after the divisive issue was first raised.

Whitehorse city council has voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping ATVs and snowmobiles off the Rotary Centennial Bridge, almost two years after the divisive issue was first raised.

The 5-1 vote was reached after 45 minutes of debate at Monday evening’s meeting.

Councillor Mike Gladish was the lone voice arguing the pedestrian bridge should be shared with offroad vehicles users.

Motorized vehicles have never been allowed on the bridge. That’s long bothered some offroad vehicle enthusiasts, who want to ride from Riverdale to the out-and-away trails on the far side of the Yukon River.

The thorny issue was first brought to city administration’s attention in May 2013, after a Whitehorse resident was concerned with increased numbers of offroad vehicles flouting the rules and using the bridge.

Last week, city administration presented a report to council in which it recommended the bridge retain its pedestrians-only status. It stated there wasn’t enough public support to consider changing the bridge’s designation to accommodate offroad vehicle users.

Moreover, doing so would go against the desires of the original supporters of the bridge project: the three Whitehorse Rotary Clubs, Yukon Energy Corporation, the Riverdale Community Association and Father Jean-Marie Mouchet.

Those arguments came up time and time again at Monday’s meeting, as councillors took the opportunity to voice their opinion on the issue one last time before voting. Coun. Gladish was the most active, trying to sway his peers on five separate occasions.

He argued that maintaining the current status wouldn’t resolve the issue or prevent unauthorized use of the bridge.

“It’s a divisive issue but it’s not about whether to allow motorized users on the bridge, it’s about whether to share or not to share,” he said.

“It’s the only safe offroad crossing that’s available. I had a bit of a revelation over the weekend – we’re on the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and the Ta’an Kwach’an Council.

“Their tradition is to share the land, and I don’t see why we can’t share the bridge.”

Coun. Gladish is part of the city’s trails and greenways committee, a group that was tasked by council to come up with new solutions for the future use of the footbridge.

Sharing the bridge was one of several ideas to emerge from a brainstorming session the committee held back in January.

Coun. Gladish also argued that a community’s needs and priorities could change over time.

“Yes, the original purpose of the bridge was intended for pedestrians only, but this is an example of arising needs,” he said.

“Being open-minded in considering new information is a responsibility of city council.”

Coun. Betty Irwin didn’t mince words when it came to expressing her opinion.

She said the issue would come up again in the future – but for now, council could hold it off.

“I have absolutely no sympathy for people who spends thousands of dollars on their expensive toys and then claim that purchasing a trailer is a terrible economic hardship,” she said.

“We have huge expanses of land in the Yukon where motorized vehicles can go and destroy vast tracks of land with complete freedom, destroy the environment, ignore the consequences and terrify the wildlife.

“Let them go there.”

Residents hoping to keep the bridge’s status intact have been vocal about it.

At a public hearing on April 7, city councillors spent close to three hours listening to the pleas of residents who wanted to keep offroad vehicles off the bridge.

Of 18 delegates who spoke at the meeting, 17 of them were in favour of retaining the pedestrian-only status.

The Klondike Snowmobile Association has pushed for allowing its members to use the bridge. At last night’s meeting its president, Mark Daniels, could be seen shaking his head as councillors made arguments in support of the status quo.

Coun. Dave Stockdale stated the city has designated trails within Riverdale for the KSA to use, which lead to out-and-away trails.

Coun. Gladish replied by saying he believed there were only two of those: one alongside Grey Mountain Road, “in the ditch,” and one on Chadburn Lake Road, which leads to a dead end.

“It’s not as good as it sounds,” he added.

In an email sent afterwards, Daniels said the association was disappointed that only one councillor made reference to the principles in the city’s trail plan, intended to guide its decision-making in regard to trails.

“The remainder of council used entirely different criteria in their deliberations and came to, what we consider to be, the wrong conclusion,” Daniels wrote.

He said that despite the setback, the association would continue to work on completing upgrades to the Trans Canada Trail this summer.

The bridge, which opened in July 2005, will celebrate its 10th anniversary this summer.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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