A truck drives along a snowy the Dempster Highway in 2013. The mayor of Inuvik has written a letter of concern to officials in the Northwest Territories and Yukon urging for better repair and maintenance of the Dempster Highway, particularly around Eagle Plains. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

Inuvik mayor pens letter of concern about Dempster conditions

Conditions near Eagle Plains have been “terrible” the past two summers, she says

The mayor of Inuvik has penned a letter of concern to officials in the Northwest Territories and Yukon urging for better repair and maintenance of the Dempster Highway, particularly around Eagle Plains.

In a Jan. 10 letter addressed to Northwest Territories’ Minister of Infrastructure Katrina Nokleby, Natasha Kulikowski wrote that conditions on the Yukon side of the border this past summer, particularly near Rock River, “were terrible,” noting that two liquid natural gas tankers tipped or went off the road within a week of each other.

The incidents led to multi-day closures that impacted not only Inuvik’s fuel supplies, the letter says, “but also resident’s (sic) travel home, grocery delivery, and so on.”

The Yukon’s minister of Highways and Public Works, Richard Mostyn, Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis and Dawson City Mayor Wayne Potoroka are among the officials cc’d on the letter.

In an interview Jan. 23, Kulikowski said that while the highway is relatively stable in the winter when it’s frozen, she’s heard a number of complaints from Inuvik citizens about the conditions on the Dempster over the past two summers, specifically south of Eagle Plains and in the Rock River area.

“The concerns I’ve heard most often, and it’ll sound a little strange, but it’s how slimy the road gets in that area,” she said.

“It’s like a black clay almost on the road and so when there’s been rainy conditions, it’s quite treacherous, right? It’s slimy, like muddy slime, so I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve heard.”

Kulikowski’s letter to officials quotes Inuvik resident Jim McDonald, who, in his own letter to NWT officials in September, wrote that the section of the Dempster south of Eagle Plains was “in the worst condition that I have ever experienced in the thirty-eight years that I have been driving the Dempster Highway.”

In an interview, McDonald told the News that he made the drive to Whitehorse in August and described the stretches around Eagle Plains as “awful” and “deplorable.”

“It was rough and a lot of the base material is up through the surface now, like the bigger rocks and stuff that you wouldn’t normally see, because I don’t think there’s been resurfacing done for some time on that section of the highway,” he said.

“And then north of Eagle, the material that they use on the road there, when it’s wet, it’s very slippery, right? It’s like a clay and really, when it’s wet, the conditions are pretty treacherous in that section.”

Despite the posted speed limit of 90 km/h, McDonald said that for a roughly 100-kilometre stretch south of Eagle Plains, vehicles had to realistically travel at closer to 30 or 40 km/h.

“You couldn’t do 90 on those sections and expect to have a truck when you were finished on it,” he said. “No, it was bad.”

“I do realize there’s a cost in maintaining the road,” he added, “but I do believe … there is funding for road maintenance and the Dempster is part of that, right?”

Kulikowski said she’d like to see the territorial governments on both sides of the border take “greater care on making sure the road is in good condition,” describing the Dempster as a “lifeline” for people living in the Beaufort Delta.

“Because the highway runs to Whitehorse, people from Inuvik do shopping there, they’ll drive there to fly out for cheaper rates, they’ll go play in ball tournaments, you know?” she said.

“… And inversely, almost all of our groceries, dry goods, all of that stuff, comes up that road too as well as the fuel supply for both the (Northwest Territories Power Corporation) and Inuvik Gas, so it’s very important that we have a safe road for people to drive on so we’re not seeing these accidents.”

“Hopefully we see some better road conditions in the coming years.”

Kulikowski said she had not received any responses to her letter from Yukon officials so far.

In an email, Department of Highways and Public Works spokesperson Oshea Jephson said that the minister was aware of Kulikowski’s letter, and that department officials have been in touch with their counterparts in the Northwest Territories about the Dempster. Mostyn, he continued, will also be attending a federal-provinicial-territorial meeting on Feb. 14 where he plans to discuss the issue with federal and territorial officials in-person.

The Department of Highways and Public Works maintains more than 4,800 kilometres of road throughout the territory, Jephson added, 465 kilometres of which are part of the Dempster.

“Maintenance costs on the Dempster Highway are about three times more than other similar highways in the territory due to its remoteness but like all Yukon highways, it is maintained to a safe and appropriate standard given the usage and socioeconomic functions it provides,” he wrote.

“Drivers are reminded to consider these conditions when travelling the Dempster Highway and to always drive to conditions.”

City of Whitehorse spokesperson Myles Dolphin confirmed that Curtis had been in touch with Kulikowski, but as the matter is outside of the city’s jurisdiction, passed on her concerns to Mostyn.

Potoroka confirmed he received the letter, but hasn’t had time to speak to territorial officials about it. He also said he hadn’t heard concerns about the Dempster himself, but acknowledged it’s an “important thoroughfare” and would ask for updates on maintenance from Yukon ministers at upcoming meetings.

The Northwest Territories’ Department of Infrastructure was not able to provide comment before press time.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

Yukon Department of Highways and Public Works

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Calvin Delwisch poses for a photo inside his DIY sauna at Marsh Lake on Feb. 18.
Yukoners turning up the heat with unique DIY sauna builds

Do-it-yourselfers say a sauna built with salvaged materials is a great winter project

Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

Yukonomist: School competition ramps up in the Yukon

It’s common to see an upstart automaker trying to grab share from… Continue reading

The Yukon government responded to a petition calling the SCAN Act “draconian” on Feb. 19. (Yukon News file)
Yukon government accuses SCAN petitioner of mischaracterizing her eviction

A response to the Jan. 7 petition was filed to court on Feb. 19

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Housing construction continues in the Whistle Bend subdivision in Whitehorse on Oct. 29, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Bureau of Statistics reports rising rents for Yukoners, falling revenues for businesses

The bureau has published several reports on the rental market and businesses affected by COVID-19

Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Peter Johnston at the Yukon Forum in Whitehorse on Feb. 14, 2019. Johnston and Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn announced changes to the implementation of the Yukon First Nations Procurement Policy on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Third phase added to procurement policy implementation

Additional time added to prep for two provisions

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

Most Read