‘Ice profiling’ underway in preparation to build Dawson City’s ice road in Yukon

A spray machine sits on at the ferry landing on the Dawson side of the Yukon River. The machine will be used to suck water from the river and spray it on top of the ice to freeze. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

Road construction is just days away, some ice on the Yukon River is still only about 4 inches thick

If you build it they will cross.

It’s not quite the quote from the movie Field of Dreams, but it is a very true statement when talking about the annual ice road in Dawson City.

The road connects Dawson City with the smaller communities of West Dawson and Sunnydale. Work on the road is scheduled to begin by next week once the ice on the Yukon River is assessed.

“You could almost break it down into a ‘pre-construction’ phase,” said Jim Regimbal, the northern area superintendent for Yukon’s department of highways and public works. “Planning and action is actually happening right now to determine if it’s safe to deploy the construction equipment onto the ice to start construction.”

Regimbal said contractor Associated Engineering’s NOR-EX, who has been hired in previous years, is doing the assessment work. He said there are some sections of the frozen river that still measure only four inches thick.

Jim Regimbal, the northern area superintendent for highways and public works, says construction on Dawson’s ice road will begin once the ice assessment is completed. (CBC)

“They’re ice profiling,” Regimbal said. “At first they’re measuring manually and then what they’re going to be doing with the ground penetrating radar … instead of getting 15 holes throughout that whole section, they’ll get thousands of hits. A good cross section of how thick the ice is throughout the whole area.”

Once the ice is deemed thick enough to work on, Regimbal said workers will pull a spray machine with another piece of equipment to flood the ice.

“What they’ll be doing is they’ll be putting that machine out,” he said. “Spraying water to get thickness of the ice to a certain thickness. Fourteen inches to accommodate 5,000 kilograms, as far as weight goes, to allow everyone to drive their vehicles on it.”

Regimbal said with the cold snap expected to hit Dawson City, he is optimistic the sanctioned ice road will be open to the public by Christmas.

In the meantime Regimbal is warning residents to use extreme caution when travelling on unsanctioned trails on the Yukon River.

A Dawson resident crossing the river on a Ski-doo on an unsanctioned trail. ‘I know people are still going to do it and that’s their choice,’ Regimbal said. ‘It’s like swimming without a lifeguard. All I have to say is be aware of your surroundings.’ (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

“I know people are still going to do it and that’s their choice,” he said. “It’s like swimming without a lifeguard. All I have to say is be aware of your surroundings. That means be vigilant visually and with your hearing too. The sounds and the cracking sounds as you cross will be some good indicators whether to boot it across or boot it back to where you came from.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Limited transportation infrastructure facing threats in northern Canada, The Canadian Press

Russia: Transportation crisis looms in Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Chris MacIntyre, CBC News

Chris MacIntyre is a CBC reporter in Dawson City, Yukon.

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