Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters at a news conference in Whitehorse Dec. 21. (Chris Windeyer/Yukon News)

Yukon government eyes engineered river crossing for West Dawson

‘Mother Nature is a fickle mistress’

The Yukon Government will attempt to build an artificial ice crossing on the Yukon River in Dawson City because the water at the crossing hasn’t frozen over for the second year in a row.

“Things are changing up here,” said Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn at a news conference Dec. 21. “The climate isn’t what it used to be … and we need to be innovative in our solutions.

“Mother Nature is a fickle mistress.”

In a normal year, the ice crossing is usually ready by mid-December. It was apparent in November that things “were not going well” on the river, Mostyn said.

“We were all hoping Mother Nature would do the work,” he said.

Mostyn said the government has consulted and retained three engineers who are specialists in ice engineering.

The process they will use involves pumping water and snow into the open water in the river to help it freeze, essentially creating an “ice Band-Aid” using special equipment.

In a typical year, the ice crossing costs $80,000 per year to build and maintain. This new proposal will cost $100,000, plus an additional one-time engineering cost of $100,000, Mostyn said, for a total of $200,000.

The crossing will still be at its usual place near the ferry terminal, said Mostyn. Last year, an unofficial, impromptu bridge was built downriver, which was neither sanctioned nor maintained by the government.

“There (have been concerns) about that location…. It’s an ad hoc thing that comes with risk,” he said.

There are currently some foot and snow machine routes across the river, said Dawson City mayor Wayne Potoroka, but it’s not possible to drive a vehicle across, meaning it’s hard to get supplies and services in.

“You couldn’t drive an emergency services vehicle in there, which is the main concern for the municipality,” he said.

West Dawson is not technically part of incorporated Dawson, but shares emergency services with them, he added.

Still, even with all the planning and additional costs, Mostyn notes the success of the ice crossing is not guaranteed. It has been done in other jurisdictions successfully, but never in the Yukon.

“If it works this year, we’ll have learned something about the river,” Mostyn said.

What to do if it doesn’t work, however, is not immediately clear.

“If it doesn’t work, we’ll be in the same situation we had last year in Dawson,” said Mostyn. That would mean his department would have to take a step back and “regroup.”

Even with the changing climate and the increasing unreliability of the ice crossing, a physical, permanent bridge between Dawson and West Dawson isn’t on the table, Mostyn said.

The subject has been broached before, but estimates have put building a bridge there at an “extraordinary” cost, he said.

“People talk about a permanent crossing, but that was proposed (before),” said Potoroka. “The community was promised one and then the engineering occurred and the prices came in and it was clearly far more expensive than the government could afford.”

“I’m hopeful this (new method) will work,” the mayor said.

Approximately 100 residents live in West Dawson, which is cut off from the town proper by the river.

In the summer the subdivision is served by the ferry, which brings people and vehicles back and forth.

In the winter, the ice crossing — which traditionally has formed naturally and been improved and maintained HPW crews — has served as a winter crossing, with brief periods of service interruption at freeze-up and break-up.

Rising annual temperatures, however, seem to be disrupting the pattern.

“Not having a link to the other side of the river is really disruptive for the town and for the folks living over there. This is two years running,” said Potoroka. “Quite frankly I’m pleased (the Yukon government) is trying to come up with an innovative solution to what seems to be our new normal.”

“Those folks (in West Dawson) live and work (in Dawson), participate in community events here. When they can’t get across we feel it too.”

It will take about three weeks to build the bridge, Mostyn said. With the holiday season approaching, however, it doesn’t look like it will get underway until January 2018.

“It’s a learning process for us all,” Mostyn said. “Hopefully, we get better at this stuff.”

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

Just Posted

Yukon government releases WCC inspection report

The report contains 40 recommendations on how facilities and services at the WCC should be improved

No new forensic unit planned for Whitehorse’s hospital

Justice says hospital may expand services it offers inmates but not enough to qualify as ‘forensic’

NDP decries lack of ‘urgency’ in governments response to WCC inspection

‘The reality is that the longer this goes on the less humane our prison system is in the territory’

Whitehorse Correctional Centre report a ‘starting point’ to address justice system issues, CYFN says

CYFN executive director Shadelle Chambers says the justice system ‘requires fundamental changes’

Paddlers ride down the Yukon River in the annual Chili and Beans Race

‘We’re always trying to find ways to keep people active’

Gymkhana tests Yukon horses and riders

‘I don’t ever want somebody to leave feeling like they didn’t accomplish some kind of goal’

Whitehorse volunteers turn to GoFundMe to raise cash for thrift store

The Whitehorse Community Thrift Store is hoping to raise $70,000 in ‘seed money’

The air up there: why you should buy a plane

Hell is other people. If you own a plane you can fly away from them

What to ask when you take your car to the shop

A visit to your garage, tire shop, dealership or repair shop can… Continue reading

Whitehorse resident Steve Roddick announces bid for council

Housing, consultation top list of priorities

Cozens, Team Canada off to strong start at Hlinka Gretzky Cup

Canada rolls through Switzerland and Slovakia to set up showdown with Sweden

Selkirk First Nation says chinook salmon numbers similar to last year’s

Sonar on the Pelly River had counted just more than 7,900 chinook as of Aug. 5

Most Read