Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Dan Davidson

TIME TO DEPART – Workers clean up the site of the ice bridge project in Dawson City on Tuesday. Inset Richard Mostyn

Crews pull up stakes on ill-fated ice bridge

Workers were quite literally pulling up stakes from the ice bridge project on the Yukon River here on Tuesday afternoon.

By Dan Davidson on January 24, 2018

DAWSON CITY – Workers were quite literally pulling up stakes from the ice bridge project on the Yukon River here on Tuesday afternoon.

The stakes had been used as markers for placement of the equipment and for the drill holes used to suck river water up for the pump to spray into the air.

It had been part of the effort to extend the shore ice to the opposite bank to create an official ice bridge.

On Monday, after consultations with the workers and his officials, Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn pulled the plug on the project.

He sent out a Twitter post to confirm what was already the buzz around the community.

“The fact is that Dawson was well aware of the status of the project, so I decided to announce it as quickly as possible so that people had some certainty,” Mostyn said Tuesday afternoon in an interview from Whitehorse.

“I wanted to take away all the rumour and innuendo and gossip.

“It wasn’t working,” he continued. “I spoke with my officials around 4:00 in the afternoon. At that time, they said we had about a 90-metre gap in the river.

“We were making about a metre of ice a day. At this rate, it would be breakup by the time we actually had the ice in place.

“Even if the temperature went down to the minus 30s and we were able to get it up to three metres a day, which was the maximum, it looked like, it would still be about six weeks before we actually had the thing in place.”

The Tetra Tech crew involved has done this job successfully in the Athabasca River, the Peel and the Mackenzie using this method.

However, it has recently been as warm as -4 C here, and on one of the days they were working, there was actually a rainshower.

On another day, there was light, fluffy snow.

One reason Mostyn went to Twitter was because of all the activity on social media.

There, comments about the project have ranged from appreciative to mystified and sarcastically negative.

“People in Dawson were phoning ministers here, the CBC was weighing in and others were starting to talk about this,” Mostyn said.

“I just decided there was no need for all the innuendo. The project was going to be shelved, so I might as well make it official.”

He agrees with comments made at a Dec. 21 news conference he had in Whitehorse that it was probably necessary to have begun whatever process was to be used earlier on, not too long after the George Black ferry was pulled from the river.

What was tried this year was as a result of Mostyn pledging last year that something would be tried if 2017-18 turned out to be a repeat of 2016-17.

“I’d hoped that it would freeze naturally this year,” he said.

“I have to sit down with my officials and discuss next steps … to assess what we did, what we learned, and what we can do better next year.”

That’s because he anticipates this will likely become a perennial issue.

“It’s probably prudent to start earlier now that we have a plan,” he told the Star.

“Changes are happening, and the other thing we have to consider is that we’re seeing warmer weather, a lot more variations in temperature, a lot more erratic … weather.

“I don’t know what the long-term potential of an ice bridge is across Dawson. The trend is warmer and worse.”

It normally costs $80,000 annually to upgrade and maintain the ice bridge, which is always started by locals. This year, the project had been expected to cost $100,000, with an additional one-time engineering cost of $100,000, for a total price tag of $200,000.

Stopping the project has capped the cost at $120,000, Mostyn said.

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