The Yukon government has circumvented assessors in order to fast-track the demolition of the Ross River bridge.
Community Services submitted an application to take down the bridge to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board in late December.
But the proposal was withdrawn last week, because waiting for the board to assess the plan would have jeopardized the department’s ability to take down the bridge this winter, said Jennifer Macgillivray, director of infrastructure development with Community Services.
“In the bridge’s current condition, it poses a serious life and property threat as long as it remains in place.”
The department declared an emergency action for the benefit of public safety and also to ensure that the ferry is able to operate next summer, she said.
The ferry runs on a cable next to the bridge. If the structure fell, it could cause damage to the ferry and harm the people on board.
Under the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, no assessment is required “when it is in the interest of public welfare, health or safety or of protecting property or the environment that the activity be undertaken immediately.”
The department has no complaint with the assessment process or how long it takes in general, said Macgillivray.
“We value the work of YESAB and we support the mandated timelines the board observes. However, in this instance we need to proceed more quickly in order to safeguard the public.”
The plan is to take down the suspension cables, timbers and decking but leave the towers, if possible, as historic features.
The project will require one or two cranes, boom trucks and temporary scaffolding, all supported by the Pelly River ice, according to the now-withdrawn YESAB proposal.
Staff drilled into the ice recently and found it to be about 70 centimetres thick, said Macgillivray.
Equipment will be on the river to start thickening it in preparation for the heavy equipment any day now, she said. The contract to take down the bridge should be out to tender by the end of next week.
An engineer assessed the 70-year old footbridge in the fall and found it to be as risk of imminent collapse.
The government later hired a second engineer to look at the costs for repair and replacement options, under pressure from the Ross River community.
But those options were found to be too expensive and too temporary, according to the YESAB proposal.
“We know that the community is very attached to the bridge and it provided year-round access, and we remain committed to engaging with the community about the future of the bridge,” said Macgillivray.
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