Officials turned away from Ross River bridge

A group of citizens are doing their best to stop the demolition of the Ross River footbridge. About 30 people spent yesterday on the frozen Pelly River and turned away engineers.

A group of citizens are doing their best to stop the demolition of the Ross River footbridge.

About 30 people spent yesterday on the frozen Pelly River and turned away engineers looking to test the ice thickness before bringing on equipment, said resident Kitty Sperling.

“They asked respectfully if they could come on and they were respectfully denied access to the ice,” she said.

The bridge, which dates back to 1944, is slated to be taken down by the end of the month.

It has been in disrepair for quite some time. Inspection reports on the bridge date back to 1979.

An engineering report from September found that the footbridge over the river is at risk of imminent collapse and poses a threat to human safety.

But many community members maintain the structure should be restored and saved.

“For me that’s what it’s been about from the beginning, public awareness. I don’t think anybody knew really what the significance of the bridge was,” said Sperling, who has started a Facebook group to promote the cause.

The bridge was constructed by the U.S. Army to carry an oil pipeline over the river. It was never intended as a permanent structure, and never intended as a pedestrian bridge.

Sperling said the group plans on maintaining a presence on the ice for as long as necessary.

Yesterday’s event included making bannock and stew and talking around a campfire, she said.

More activities on the ice are planned for this weekend.

“We are inviting anyone who wants to come to celebrate and honour the suspension bridge,” she said.

“(People can) bring their tents and hang out on the ice and participate in some hockey and some curling and have a really nice time.”

They want to send the message that the bridge is an important heritage structure, she said.

Community Services deputy minister Harvey Brooks said having people on the ice is an obvious obstacle.

“It’s a difficulty for the project of course,” he said. “When one is doing something this unique and potentially dangerous it’s important to have a very secure and well regulated work area.”

Officials from his department, along with the contractor, were able to do some visual inspections yesterday but did not go on the ice, Brooks said.

He maintains that the bridge is a hazard that needs to come down for safety reasons, even if only temporarily.

“We have engineering reports that say that the bridge has dangerous elements and we are trying to remove those dangerous elements before we can assess whether or not the bridge can safely be repaired.”

After the bridge deck is off, the government will be issuing a request for proposals to have all the pieces assessed “to see whether or not the bridge can be safely repaired to a structural standard and the cost of doing that,” Brooks said.

“We’ve always said we weren’t making any final decisions with regards to the bridge, but before we could do that we were essentially duty bound for public and workers’ safety to remove the dangerous elements.”

As for what will happen if people stay on the ice, Brooks said he wouldn’t speak to that.

“It’s safest to remove the dangerous elements while there is ice under the bridge, that’s clear. To that extent we will endeavour to do that over the next number of weeks while there’s still good winter ice under the bridge.”

With files from Jacqueline Ronson

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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