Rhiannon Russell | Special to the News
The territorial government is holding a public meeting in Dawson City this week to talk to residents about the Yukon River ice bridge.
“This is a vital link between Dawson and West Dawson,” said Oshea Jephson, spokesperson for the Department of Highway and Public Works. “(We) just wanted to go up and see if there were any ideas or suggestions that people within the community had on how to address the bridge, given the freezing concerns that have taken place over the last couple years.”
The department has also hired a consultant from the National Research Council Canada to produce a report on the ice bridge and any possible solutions, in the event the river doesn’t freeze over this winter.
Consultant Paul Barrette says there are two general options, either reducing the amount of open water or finding a way to go around it.
About 100 people live in West Dawson, across the Yukon River. Typically, the government maintains an ice bridge connecting the community with Dawson City, from the ferry terminal on one side of the river to the other.
But last winter, a section of water in that location remained unfrozen. So, in January, the government decided to hire engineers to build what Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn called an “ice Band-Aid” across the river.
For a week, a crew used “spray technology” — spraying water onto the river — in an attempt to encourage ice to form. Ultimately, the plan was unsuccessful, in part due to warm temperatures.
“I never talked to anybody who thought it would actually work,” said Sebastian Jones, a long-time West Dawson resident. He plans to attend the meeting.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he says of the consultation. “It sounds to me like some of the stuff they (the government) heard last winter was that they should’ve asked some local people what their ideas were, and I guess they’ve decided to do that.”
Kyler Mather, who has lived in West Dawson for 10 years, agrees: “I give kudos to government for at least trying something.”
Last winter, after the spraying attempt failed, Mather got creative. He and a friend strung a rope and a dead tree across the narrowest section of open water. Within a couple of days, enough ice had formed that people could walk across. And within two or three weeks, once snow was plowed from the makeshift bridge, vehicles travelled across.
“I wasn’t the only one who came up with the idea to throw some ropes across the river,” Mather says. “I was just the guy that went out and did it.”
He says people have different ideas about why the river isn’t freezing up the way it has in the past. He suspects lower water levels could be partly responsible.
“It seems like maybe there’s a gravel bar above the Klondike, which is kind of narrowing the Yukon River, which creates a choke point,” says Mather. “And then that’s why the ice jams there and not traditionally downstream, where it usually does.”
Both Jones and Mather hope that the river freezes up as it’s supposed to this winter.
“Like everybody else, I hope that this discussion is fruitful but that it ultimately is not needed,” says Jones.
The meeting will be held at the Downtown Hotel’s conference room on Aug. 22, from 4 to 7 p.m. Barrette will attend, and he says the public’s input will likely factor into his report.
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