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Whitehorse council approves $2.6M for escarpment response

Costs are a lot, but necessary, says councillor
The sheet piling wall installed along Robert Service Way to address landslides is one of a number of work expences approved under emergency escarpment repairs. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

Whitehorse city council has signed off on more than $2.6 million in spending to address landslides and escarpment instability around the city.

Council voted July 25 to approve $2.3 million in spending for the escarpment slide response from this spring as well as $350,000 on the design to address a major part of the sewer line impacted by a tension crack in the escarpment.

Both expenses are related to the slides along the clay cliffs that occurred between April and June as well as tension cracks that remain.

Before council’s vote on the $2.3 million, Coun. Ted Laking described the amount as a lot, but added it is necessary.

“And I kind of get the sense that we’re only getting started with this,” he said, also pointing to the work on the sewer line that’s needed.

A major slide on April 30 sent debris down the escarpment, across Robert Service Way and into the Yukon River, also taking out a light standard and rail tracks in its path. A large portion of the road as well as nearby trails remained closed for approximately six weeks as tension cracks were observed and slides occurred elsewhere along the escarpment. A sheet piling wall was put in place on Robert Service Way to prevent further slides there from reaching the road with the city continuing to monitor the escarpment.

Much of the downtown escarpment area was also fenced off for that period.

Among the tension cracks, a large one has been noted at a manhole along the sewer line east of the Pepsi Softball Center in Takhini. The line there is referred to a trunk line as it collects effluent from several neighbourhoods before moving it onto the Marwell Lift Station and eventually the Livingstone Lagoon.

The city put a temporary sewage bypass in place as a temporary measure after the tension crack was seen, but it is looking at a permanent solution through the design project.

Any decisions on the construction of a permanent solution would be done through the capital budget process.

Meanwhile, the $2.3 million in costs to respond to the escarpment slide includes ongoing escarpment inspections; fencing and barricades; 24-hour security during the closure of Robert Service Way; engineering work; purchased material for the building of the piling wall and to clean up debris; and the construction of the bypass for the sewer line.

“Incurred costs to date are over $1.6 million with a number of invoices still outstanding,” city engineering manager Taylor Eshpeter stated in a previous presentation to council. “The majority of the remaining work is related to debris cleanup of landslides, and completion of the containment berm on Robert Service Way.”

The city manager bylaw allows for spending in the case of an emergency such as this with a vote by council to follow to formally provide the budgetary authority for the spending.

Laking noted his hope other levels of government will understand the importance of stabilizing the escarpment and assist in the costs.

“I am hopeful that we are successful in getting some cost sharing from all levels of government on this because it’s it’s a significant amount of money for Whitehorse to bear on its own,” he said, going on to question where discussions are between the city and other governments on that possibility.

Interim city manager Jeff O’Farrell said there aren’t any updates from the previous week when he said early discussions are underway.

Mayor Laura Cabott added the territorial and federal governments are aware of the situation and the city is hoping to hear more soon.

Coun. Dan Boyd wondered whether the discussions with the Yukon government are also looking at the soil management and snow clearing at the top of the escarpment, particularly at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport where a runway expansion is underway.

“We are working with the Yukon government in terms of both the ongoing work that they have planned and and currently in design for for the airport, runway expansion and we will be working with them and initiating conversation with respect to snow management and overall water and diversion and collaborating with their geotechnical engineers,” director of operations Tracy Allen said.

Coun. Kirk Cameron, meanwhile, argued the need for a more long-term vision to ensure the roadway remains open, particularly as the community grows and more people are travelling downtown via Robert Service Way.

“This is a particularly important piece of our transportation infrastructure for the south of our city,” he said.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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