Old Crow winter road open for business

On Wednesday afternoon Lisa Marino, an owner and operator with Mercer Contracting, was busy in the company’s yard organizing trucks headed for Old Crow.

On Wednesday afternoon Lisa Marino, an owner and operator with Mercer Contracting, was busy in the company’s yard organizing trucks headed for Old Crow.

A flat-bed tractor trailer was packed high with construction materials ordered by the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and a shiny white pick-up truck – a new toy for some lucky Old Crow resident.

Earlier that day Marino had seen off the first three trucks headed for Eagle Plains to spend the night before the long trip over the 260-kilometre winter road to Old Crow.

“It was a really good feeling,” said Marino. “It was really nice to see that all come together, and three trucks off and on their way. It’ll be great to hear Thursday night, or Friday sometime, they’re there and getting unloaded.”

The $1.4 million Old Crow winter road has officially opened. It’s the first time in a decade the community has been connected to the rest of Yukon by road.

But don’t start planning a road trip; the route is not open to the public. Instead, it will be used to haul in equipment and supplies that will generate economic activity in the community for years to come.

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation is bringing in construction supplies for a new store, new fuel storage tanks and new housing.

Community residents have ordered in big-ticket items like appliances, vehicles and outboard motors – things that would cost a small fortune to ship in by air.

The First Nation even hired a truck on behalf of its citizens to ship personal items, free of charge to the community.

Vuntut Gwitchin had planned to build a road last winter, but it was cancelled a few weeks before construction was scheduled to begin.

“Really it’s good that it didn’t happen last year,” said Randy Shewen, who was hired by the First Nation to manage the project.

“As it turned out, weather conditions weren’t great … and people just weren’t ready to go.”

Getting a winter road built is only part of the battle. You also have to give all the government departments, companies and people who might be interested in bringing stuff in enough time to plan and budget for projects that are potentially years down the road.

Now that all the potential users have had an extra year to get their ducks in a row, it seems the Old Crow winter road project is set for great success.

Shewen estimates that about 50 trucks will travel the road over the three-week period that it is open.

For perhaps the first time ever, a significant amount of material will be coming out, too. About half of those trucks will come back out loaded, said Shewen.

Waste oils, lubricants, and scrap metal will be shipped out of the community for proper disposal.

A couple of trucks have already driven the road as a test run, and arrived in Old Crow Tuesday, said Shewen.

“Apparently they had to add a bit of ice thickness to the first crossing of the Porcupine River, but other than that … all indications are that the road is now ready to drive and it’s in good shape.”

Getting the road into shape is no small feat.

The route is the same as it has been for previous winter roads. It generally follows historic tote roads, survey and seismic lines cut during oil and gas exploration activities in the 1950s through 1980s.

A team of people from Old Crow led the way, using a combination of maps, memory and GPS technology, said Shewen.

“You really rely on those people, because they’re as close as you’ve got to experts.”

The road is a lot like a flat ski run, he said.

“It’s built with grooming equipment from ski hills. It’s actually a lot like a ski hill or a cross country ski trail.”

The first step is to plow most of the snow off the ground. That lets the cold air get into the soil, previously insulated by the snow. Solid, frozen ground is key to a good solid road.

Then snow is moved back onto the road surface and packed down to a depth of at least 10 centimetres.

This helps ensure that vegetation isn’t disturbed by the heavy trucks barrelling along above the surface.

The hardest parts of the road to build are the creek and river crossings.

There, the banks must be built up with snow and water to allow a smooth transition from ground to ice and back.

Still, on some of the steeper grades a Caterpillar tractor will be required to drag each of the trucks up, one by one.

The trucks will travel the one-lane road in convoys of about a dozen vehicles. Everybody must get all the way to Old Crow and back out to Eagle Plains before the next group can go.

A one-way, 260-kilometre trip is expected to take 12-18 hours, if everything goes well.

The full round trip should take four days, including unloading and loading back up in Old Crow.

The truckers must be prepared for anything. A small breakdown could see the convoy stuck for days, and the whole project brought to a stand-still.

“Delays can really impact our success,” said Shewen.

Logistics in Old Crow is another significant challenge, he said.

“If you can imagine eight or 10 trucks showing up – they have to be unloaded. Just that many trucks in Old Crow is a significant amount of traffic.”

There has to be the people and the equipment on the ground ready to unload and receive the goods.

And there has to be somewhere to put everything, said Shewen. Old Crow doesn’t have room to store 50 truckloads of stuff at random.

“You have to do it quickly, because you want to get those trucks back on the road and get them out for another load,” he said.

The road will also have to be maintained between trips.

“No doubt it’s going to be pounded out by these truckloads,” he said.

Maintenance is done with graders, “more or less like any other road,” said Shewen.

Water trucks will be used to shore up creek crossings and embankments.

And once that’s done, it’s time to do it all over again.

Four convoys are scheduled to make the trip before the expected closure date in three weeks.

The road will then return to nature, until next time.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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

Just Posted

NDP candidate Annie Blake, left, and Liberal incumbent Pauline Frost. (Submitted photos)
Official recount confirms tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin riding

Both candidates Pauline Frost and Annie Blake are still standing with 78 votes each

Artist’s rendering of a Dairy Queen drive-thru. At its April 13 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved a zoning change to allow a drive-thru at 107 Range Road. Developers sought the change to build a Dairy Queen there. (Submitted)
Drive-thru approved by Whitehorse city council at 107 Range Road

Rezoning could pave the way for a Dairy Queen

xx
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for April 14, 2021.… Continue reading

Liberal leader Sandy Silver speaks outside his campaign headquarters in Dawson City following early poll results on April 12. (Robin Sharp/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Minority government results will wait on tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin

The Yukon Party and the Liberal Party currently have secured the same amount of seats

École Whitehorse Elementary Grade 7 students Yumi Traynor and Oscar Wolosewich participated in the Civix Student Vote in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Yukon Student Vote chooses Yukon Party government; NDP take popular vote

The initiative is organized by national non-profit CIVIX

Yvonne Clarke is the newly elected Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre. (Submitted/Yukon Party)
Yvonne Clarke elected as first Filipina MLA in the Yukon Legislative Assembly

Clarke beat incumbent Liberal Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre

Emily Tredger at NDP election night headquarters after winning the Whitehorse Centre riding. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Emily Tredger takes Whitehorse Centre for NDP

MLA-elect ready to get to work in new role

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Two new cases of COVID-19 variant identified in territory

“If variants were to get out of control in the Yukon, the impact could be serious.”

lwtters
Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Most Read