Paul Murchison, director of the Yukon government’s transportation engineering branch, talks to media about the cancellation of the Dawson City ice bridge project during a press conference in Whitehorse on Jan. 31. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

No bridge over troubled water: Yukon government pulls the plug on the Dawson ice bridge

Highways officials say they spent $150,000 of the $200,000 budget

It’s official — there will be no West Dawson ice bridge this year.

Staff with the Yukon Department of Highways and Public Works made the announcement at a press conference held early in the afternoon on Jan. 31.

A number of factors “beyond our control” were acknowledged prior to the start of project, including “river hydraulics, ice and air temperature,” said Paul Murchison, director of the transportation engineering branch. Further complications, including the Jan. 22 sinking of a snowcat working on the site, prompted the government’s decisions to cancel the project.

At present, $150,000 of the $200,000 originally budgeted to build the ice bridge has been spent, Murchison said.

If the government had continued, the project would require more money and probably going over budget, he said.

Given that the latest the ice bridge has historically gone in was Feb. 9 — and that putting it in any later than that might mean only having it serviceable for a few months anyways — the government decided to pull the plug.

“The reality is … you could spend a lot of money and (still) get nothing built at all,” he said.

While he acknowledged this would be inconvenient for people in West Dawson “who were anticipating ice bridge access this year” there was no obligation for the government to provide access that he was aware of, he said.

When asked if this meant a permanent bridge to West Dawson — an idea which has been tossed around on and off for years and always been nixed because of high estimated costs — would be considered, the answer was flatly no.

“A steel and concrete bridge is not something we are considering at this time,” Murchison said.

Responding to concerns that the work hadn’t been started early enough to be effective, Murchison said that “in an ideal world” it would have begun sooner, but that the booms, which were constructed in December, were still put in around the time the government had hoped for. Starting earlier, while the water is still open, is made complicated by the presence of boat traffic, he noted.

In regards to citizen-made projects — such as the foot bridge constructed this year using a chainsaw to cut a large hunk of shore ice loose, which was floated down river to cork the lede in the middle of the water with the intent that it freeze over — Murchison said such impromptu bridges aren’t known to be safe and carry a high risk. The river is unpredictable at this time, he noted; the area where the snowcat fell through on the government-sanctioned construction site was in a place where the ice had hitherto been believed to be safe, for example.

That snowcat has been located below the river water and, following an inspection by Environment Yukon, “does not appear to be leaking any fluids” he said.

Getting it out — which will likely involve cutting a hole in the ice, sending down a diver with a cable and winching the machine back up — is “more of a contractor problem” than a government one, he added.

At this time, the government isn’t sure how it’s going to proceed next year, he said, but will be keeping residents of West Dawson abreast of the situation when decisions have been made.

The recently constructed booms will remain in place, Murchison said, along with a camera on site to observe the behaviour of the river, which will help the government make decisions about the ice bridge in the future.

In some similar instances of consistent issues of access or danger to property, such problems caused by flood plains, governments sometimes offer to buy-out residents and/or help them relocate. That’s not something the Yukon government is considering at this time for West Dawson, Department of Highways and Public Works spokesperson Oshea Jephson said in a follow-up interview.

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

Dawson City

Just Posted

Lorraine Kuhn is seen with one of the many volleyball teams she coached. (Photo submitted by Sport Yukon)
The Yukon Sports Hall of Fame inducts the late Lorraine Kuhn

Lorraine Kuhn became the newest member of the Yukon Sports Hall of Fame for her work in growing volleyball amongst other sports

File Photo
A Yukon judge approved dangerous offender status for a man guilty of a string of assaults in 2020.
Yukon judge sentences dangerous offender to indefinite prison term

Herman Peter Thorn, 51, was given the sentence for 2020 assaults, history of violence

Crystal Schick/ Yukon News A former residential school in the Kaska Dena community of Lower Post will be demolished on June 21. Crystal Schick/ Yukon News
Lower Post residential school demolition postponed

On June 21, the old residential school in Lower Post will be demolished and new ground on a multi-cultural centre will be broken

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley announced 29 new COVID-19 cases on June 19 and community transmission among unvaccinated individuals. (Yukon News file)
Yukon logs record-high 29 new COVID-19 cases

F.H. Collins prom attendees and some Porter Creek Grade 9 students are instructed to self-isolate as community transmission sweeps through unvaccinated populations

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before using it on Nov. 24. The Yukon government is reopening the drive-thru option on June 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Drive-up COVID-19 testing opening June 18 in Whitehorse

The drive-up testing will be open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. everyday and increase testing capacity by 33 spots

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council at its June 14 meeting

Murray Arsenault sits in the drivers seat of his 1975 Bricklin SV1 in Whitehorse on June 16. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bringing the 1975 Bricklin north

Murray Arsenault remembers his dad’s Bricklin, while now driving his own

A presumptive COVID case was found at Seabridge Gold’s 3 Aces project. (file photo)
Presumptive COVID-19 case reported at mine in southeast Yukon

A rapid antigen rest found a presumptive COVID case on an incoming individual arriving at the 3Aces project

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

FORT SIMPSON—Residents of a flooded Northwest Territories village expected a helping hand… Continue reading

A woman was rescued from the Pioneer Ridge Trail in Alaska on June 16. (Photo courtesy/AllTrails)
Alaska hiker chased off trail by bears flags down help

ANCHORAGE (AP)—An Alaska hiker who reported needing help following bear encounters on… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rises in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable’ that Inuk MP felt unsafe in House of Commons, Miller says

OTTAWA—It’s a “sad reflection” on Canada that an Inuk MP feels she’s… Continue reading

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

Most Read