Ross River bridge to come down despite outcry

Critics are urging the Yukon government to reverse its decision to take down the Ross River footbridge this month.

Critics are urging the Yukon government to reverse its decision to take down the Ross River footbridge this month.

An engineering report from September found that the 70-year-old footbridge over the Pelly River is at risk of imminent collapse and poses a threat to human safety.

As a result the Yukon government has expedited efforts to take the bridge down this winter, while the ice is thick enough, and to ensure that operation of the nearby ferry is not affected this summer.

But NDP MLA Kevin Barr says the government has not consulted the community of Ross River enough on alternatives to tearing down the bridge.

The community has used the bridge for decades to access camps and hunting grounds on the far side of the river.

“I’m calling for a stop to the demolition at this point. I don’t believe and the people of Ross River don’t believe that they’ve been consulted to the various options. It’s just another example of the Yukon Party government not listening to the people, doing what they want.”

An engineering report from November looked at the possibility of doing repairs to extend the life of the bridge, but found that taking it down was the best option both from a cost and a public safety point of view.

The Yukon government had a second engineering firm confirm those findings.

But one local engineer, Robert Wills, says the footbridge could be made safe with only minor repairs.

And a group called Friends of the Ross River Foot Bridge has sprung up on Facebook, earning 684 likes as of Friday morning.

Even CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi has weighed in, arguing on his national program Q that the bridge should be saved.

The bridge was constructed by the U.S. Army in 1944 to carry an oil pipeline over the river. It was never intended as a permanent structure, and never intended as a pedestrian bridge.

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

The government closed the bridge in August 2012, but the warning sign and chain across the walkway deterred few in the community from crossing.

In September the government also removed the stairs leading up to the walkway and blocked it with plywood.

Community Services Minister Brad Cathers said the government has no intention of reversing the decision to take down the bridge.

“We have an obligation in this type of situation to err on the side of public safety and put human life over preservation of heritage resources.”

The government is open to consulting with Ross River and Yukon on the possibility of replacing the bridge and options for access to the north side of the river, but has made no commitments, he said.

“We’re prepared to talk to them about potential options, but at this point in time our short-term focus has had to be on acting on this risk that has been identified.”

The $171,490 contract to take down the bridge has been awarded to Klondike Welding Ltd.

The work is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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