Years after the community’s protests saved the Ross River footbridge from near certain destruction, the Second World War-era bridge will be stable enough to walk on once again.
The Yukon government announced Jan. 10 that it had secured the federal money needed to finish repairing the bridge that has been unusable since 2013.
“We want to listen to the communities about what’s important to them and they clearly made a statement that this is important to them,” said Community Services Minister John Streicker.
Ross River residents have used the bridge for decades to access camps and hunting grounds on the far side of the Pelly River. It’s the only thing that connects the two sides during freeze-up and break-up when the local ferry can’t run.
The second phase of repairs to the suspension bridge will cost about $3 million. The Government of Canada has promised to chip in up to $2.25 million and Yukon will contribute the remaining $750,000.
That’s good news for residents who worked hard to save the bridge from demolition.
“It’s extremely important to the community,” said Kitty Sperling, who ran the Friends of the Ross River Foot Bridge Facebook group. “Grouse hunting season is coming up in April and that’s how people get across the water without falling in.”
Sperling said the bridge also has historic and potential tourism value.
It 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’s the last structure that harkens back to those days,” she said.
When news broke that the bridge would be torn down, protesters camped out around the clock on the Pelly River ice to prevent the demolition.
The government eventually agreed to find a way to save it.
It hasn’t been cheap. The first phase of repairs to the bridge included stabilizing the north and south towers and cost $1.4 million, but the bridge still wasn’t safe enough to walk on.
The Yukon Party government of the time said it couldn’t finish the repairs until more federal money was secured.
The territory has known for a few months that the new funding had been approved, said Paul Moore, deputy minister of community services.
The final repairs will include new stairs, cables, anchors and decking.
Streicker was in Ross River this month to meet with the community and the Ross River Dena Council. When it was announced that the money was coming to finish the repairs, the community was supportive, he said.
If everything goes as planned, the hope is to have people walking on the bridge again by this summer, Striecker said.
The Yukon government is waiting for a letter from the First Nation officially confirming that it wants the project to go ahead. Then a tender will be sent out looking for a company to do the work.
Funding for both phases of the repairs has come from the federal government’s Building Canada Fund.
That means the Yukon is responsible for 25 per cent of the bill, while the federal government covers the rest. In all, the territory will have spent more than a million dollars on repairs to the bridge. Both Streicker and Sperling say it was money well spent.
There’s no word on how much it cost the Yukon to cancel the original plan to knock the bridge down. The Department of Community Services did not answer that question by deadline.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org