Time is running out for Dawson City, Yukon ice bridge

West Dawson resident Sebastien Weisser said he doesn’t think an ice bridge will be made this year. Or at least not one connecting the two ferry landings on each side of the river. (Sebastien Weisser)

The Yukon government says it is forging ahead with plans to build it and expects colder temperatures to help

As the winter rolls on in Dawson City, Yukon, one West Dawson resident is starting to lose hope that the town’s annual ice bridge will come to fruition.

Especially since this time last year the ice bridge was already open to light traffic.

“We all know that it’s a risk we take of not being able to cross,” said Sebastien Weisser when talking about the seasonal challenges that come with living in West Dawson.

Weisser does cross the river but uses a trail currently being used as the main route from West Dawson to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation’s C-4 subdivision.

He said there have been years similar to this one where it took a little longer for ice to form in the river but he said this year feels a little bit different.

“It’s slowly closing up,” said Weisser. “But there’s no chance in hell that it’s going to close completely. By the time it would eventually close up by the ferry landing, it’ll be the end of winter.

“I don’t see how they’re going to spend three weeks to build an ice bridge that will last maybe a month, a month and a half or two at most.”

This time last year, the ice bridge in Dawson City was open to light traffic up to 10,000kg. This year the area is just open water. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

Weisser told CBC News that he thinks the money that the government will spend on creating the bridge isn’t worth the amount of use that the public will get from it. He said he thinks the Yukon Government should give up on the normal ice bridge this year, and instead focus its effort on creating a safe alternative for folks.

One idea was to sanction the current trail being used by residents.

But Weisser also said that idea comes with challenges.

“The Yukon [River] crossing is fine,” he said. “It’s that we have to go either across the Klondike [River] or the long way around … but it’s just a little skidoo trail. There’s no way it’s going to be a driveable road.”

“And the problem with crossing the Klondike is at the best of times it’s a tricky river to deal with. It becomes unsafe to travel pretty early in the spring.”

Weisser said for him it’s not really an issue whether or not there is an ice bridge as every year he plans ahead, stocking up on supplies, often more than he needs in the event of an emergency.

He would like to see the government take a proactive approach to addressing the river crossing and the challenges that continue to come with it.

The Yukon Government’s Luke Wadey said he’s optimistic an ice bridge will happen this year. He said there are no plans to construct the ice bridge anywhere else than where it normally goes, between the ferry landings on the West side and the town side. (The Yukon Government)

Luke Wadey is the assistant manager of design and construction of transportation engineering with the Yukon government.

He told CBC News that he isn’t quite ready to give up on the project yet.

“The forecast in Dawson looks quite a bit cooler than it has been this winter,” he said. ” So moving forward over the next couple weeks we’re pretty hopeful that there’s a greater potential that we’ll be able to get some ice jamming.”

Wadey said there is no plans to stray from building the ice bridge anywhere else than where it normally goes, between the ferry landings.

He said he remains optimistic that a bridge will happen this year, even if it is only able to accommodate light traffic.

“At this stage it’s hard to know exactly when the ice is going to be formed and we’ll get something in,” he said. “But in order for us to get the 5,000 kilogram crossing in, which may be all we get in this year , it is something we can put in in pretty short order.”

Wadey said the river continues to be monitored by satellite imaging and the Yukon Government will provide up to date information through its 511yukon.ca website.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: ‘Ice profiling’ underway in preparation to build Dawson City’s ice road in Yukon, CBC News

Chris MacIntyre, CBC News

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

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