Premier’s top brass sent to defuse Ross River bridge protests

Senior staff from Premier Darrell Pasloski's office travelled to Ross River Tuesday to meet with the Ross River Dena Council about the demolition of the footbridge across the Pelly River.

Senior staff from Premier Darrell Pasloski’s office travelled to Ross River Tuesday to meet with the Ross River Dena Council about the demolition of the footbridge across the Pelly River.

As of Wednesday morning there was no word from principal secretary Gordon Steele, chief of staff Rick Nielsen or Ross River Chief Brian Ladue on how that meeting went.

Meanwhile, residents continue to camp out on the Pelly River around the clock in a last-ditch effort to save the Ross River footbridge. The protests began Tuesday last week.

“It’s going very well, actually,” said Kitty Sperling on Tuesday. She’s an organizer of the protest and the moderator of the Friends Of The Ross River Foot Bridge Facebook group. “We had a rousing game of curling last night and we’re waiting for the tie-breaker today. Things are going very well. The curling rocks are getting a little bit beat up and the ice is a little slower but all is well.”

The NDP’s community services critic, Kevin Barr, said he couldn’t make it himself, but sent doughnuts and other food to the protesters in support. He plans to go in person as soon as he can, he said in an interview Tuesday.

Barr will also be looking into getting other items the group may need delivered, like portable toilets, he said.

“It just depends on how long this is going to go … We’re just looking at how we can support the community.”

The last official word from the Yukon government is that it plans to move ahead with the demolition of the bridge this month.

It has committed to looking at options for salvaging and reconstructing the bridge after it has been taken down.

The government is “essentially duty-bound for public and workers’ safety to remove the dangerous elements,” said Community Services deputy minister Harvey Brooks last week.

The bridge was constructed by the U.S. Army in 1944 to carry an oil pipeline over the river, and was later retrofitted as a footbridge. It has been in disrepair for decades.

An engineering report in September found that the bridge is at immediate risk of collapse.

A second report from the same firm looked at options to repair the bridge and found that immediately taking down the bridge is the best choice from a cost and a public safety perspective.

Those results were confirmed by a second engineering firm hired to review the conclusions.

If the bridge does not come down this winter, it could interfere with the operation of the ferry that connects the community to the North Canol Road in the summers.

The ferry operates just below the bridge and running it would put the barge and any people and vehicles on it at risk if the footbridge were to collapse.

That is a concern, said Barr, but it is a problem of the government’s own making.

“The government put themselves in this position. … If they’re really concerned about safety, they could have done their homework prior to this.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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