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Whitehorse escarpment costs creeping beyond $2.6M

Council asked to approve spending
This map and photos show the tension crack that is impacting a major sewer line in the Takhini area. (City of Whitehorse/Screen shot)

The City of Whitehorse is facing costs totalling more than $2.6 million as it continues to deal with the aftermath of escarpment landslides and tension cracks.

Recommendations for Whitehorse city council to approve $350,000 for the design of a new sanitary sewer line along with a further $2.3 million for the emergency response to the spring slides and escarpment situation came forward at council’s July 18 meeting.

Both figures are related to the slides along the clay cliffs that occurred between the end of April until June as well as tension cracks that remain.

On April 30, a major slide 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. The road and nearby trails remained closed for six weeks as tension cracks were observed and slides occured elsewhere in the escarpment. A sheet piling wall was been 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 fencing that closed off access to the downtown escarpment has since been removed, though there is some that remains in place.

City engineering manager Taylor Eshpeter said in his report to council, a number of measures had to be taken to deal with the situation. They have included ongoing daily inspections of the escarpment; putting fencing and barricades in place; hiring 24-hour security to prevent access to Robert Service Way when it was closed; engineering work; purchasing materials for the building of the wall and clean up of the debris; as well the construction of a temporary sanitary bypass for the sewage line in Takhini where tension cracks had occured.

“Incurred costs to date are over $1.6 million with a number of invoices still outstanding,” he said. “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 and the expenses have been reported to council, but council is now required to provide the budgetary authority for the spending, he explained.

Interim city manager Jeff O’Farrell confirmed there are discussions underway about possible funding coming from other governments, but stressed that it’s “very early days” in those discussions.

“It’s a work in progress,” he said.

Along with the $2.3 million that would be approved for the escarpment slide response, another vote by council will decide on spending $350,000, also from city reserves, on the design to replace the major sewer line east of the Pepsi Softball Center in Takhini. The line is what’s known as a trunk line, which collects sewage effluent from a number of neighbourhoods before it moves to the Marwell Lift Station and then onto the Livingstone Lagoon for final treatment.

The proposal to replace the line comes after a large tension crack was observed at a manhole on the line in June, prompting the city to move forward with putting in the temporary sewage bypass.

As Eshpeter stated in his report to council on the proposed replacement, the 1975-era trunk line moves about 40 per cent of the effluent going to the Marwell Lift Station.

“Based on the hazard and risk assessment completed by the geotechnical engineers, there is a high probability of imminent slope failure that could damage or destroy this portion of the line within the next year,” he said. “Given the magnitude of the risk of slope failure and corresponding failure of this portion of the sanitary trunk, the city has constructed a temporary bypass solution to maintain levels of service and mitigate any environmental impacts until a final solution can be implemented.”

The design work for a permanent solution has begun under the bylaw provision allowing the city manager to go forward. It would provide a permanent solution while the bypass would remain on standby for the rest of the year and be fully commissioned in 2023 to reduce the risk from spring melt and facilitate the building of a new sew` er line next year.

Questioned by Mayor Laura Cabott on the possibility of stabilizing the escarpment and using the bypass rather than putting in a new line, Eshpeter confirmed that this is among the possibilities being looked at as a permanent solution, though he also noted it appears that would involve moving a significant amount of earth.

Cabott replied by emphasizing the importance of considering all possibilities.

“That’s good to know that we’re looking at all of our options across the board and seeing what will be effective, but also what will be fiscally responsible,” she said.

Coun. Melissa Murray also wondered about plans to reopen a section of the Trans Canada Trail through the area, which had been closed while the bypass work was done. Eshpeter said work is underway to come up with a plan for the reopening, though a couple of areas will likely have to remain closed to the public.

O’Farrell also confirmed part of the discussion with other governments about external funding to deal with the escarpment includes addressing the trunk line.

The decision on whether to go ahead with spending on the construction of the new line would follow the design work and would be made through the 2023 budget.

“It should be noted that given the age of the existing sanitary trunk and planned future development within this sanitary catchment area, a capital project to provide additional capacity and redundancy would likely have been required in the next seven to 12 years, regardless,” Eshpeter said.

Council will vote July 25 whether to approve both expenses.

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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