Ice-making equipment was moved into place and began the attempt to build the bridge in mid-January. (Derek Crowe/Government of Yukon)

Yukon government pulls plug on engineered ice bridge to West Dawson

It wasn’t cold enough

After approximately a week of trying, the Yukon government has given up on building a sanctioned ice road on the Yukon River from Dawson City to West Dawson.

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn said the weather has been too warm for crews to make enough progress closing a 90-metre gap of open water.

“While we were making ice, we weren’t making it fast enough to get a bridge in place before break-up,” Mostyn said Jan. 23.

The government announced in late December it would try to use technology that has worked in other jurisdictions to spray water and snow onto the river to help close the gap.

On Jan. 16 the government announced contractors had started the job, but by Jan. 22 Mostyn pulled the plug.

“It was too warm for us to be able to continue to make the ice bridge. When we started this process a while ago it was actually raining.”

The temperature eventually dropped to the -20s which is “just the barest minimum for good progress,” he said, but even then that progress was slow.

“While the crew were really working hard, they were building about a metre of ice a day. The gap in the river is currently about 90 metres wide.”

At that rate it would take about three months to complete the bridge plus some extra time to make sure it was sturdy enough for cars.

That was just too slow to warrant continuing, Mostyn said.

Environment Canada’s forecast predicts the temperatures in Dawson City will remain in the -20 C to -30 C range over the next week.

Roughly 100 people live in West Dawson on the opposite site of the Yukon River from Dawson City. In the summer the two sides are connected by a ferry but in the winter residents wait for the water to freeze. The ice bridge is usually open to traffic by mid-December.

Last winter, the river didn’t completely freeze and residents were forced to find their own unsanctioned routes to the other side.

That’s what’s happening again this year, Mostyn said. Even without an official ice bridge, people are finding their own, lengthy ways across.

“It’s certainly not on a sanctioned crossing, which raises concerns for me, if we can’t guarantee their safety,” Mostyn said.

Government vehicles are only allowed to travel on sanctioned roads, which means that fire trucks and ambulances won’t be able to get to West Dawson in the event of an emergency.

Mostyn said he’s willing to try again to create an ice bridge next winter.

The plan is to start spraying earlier, possibly next November, instead of waiting to see if the river freezes on its own, he said.

“Now that we have this engineering plan in place we should be able to actually execute on this earlier and see if that will help form the ice.”

Mostyn said the government spent $120,000 on the failed plan. Some of that was the cost of coming up with the engineering plan in the first place, he said, though he couldn’t say how much.

A permanent bridge between the two communities is still not something that is being considered. “It’s measured in tens of millions of dollars,” he said. “That’s an awfully big expense for a bridge of limited use throughout the year.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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