The Deh Cho Bridge will link Yellowknife and other North Slave communities to southern Canada year-round. (CBC)

The former project manager for the N.W.T.'s controversial Deh Cho Bridge says at least one defect in the bridge was left unrepaired after it was first detected.

Terry Whiteman, Ruskin Construction's project manager in 2008, says a hole a metre big was left at the top of a footing for one of the support piers. The area is now under water and protective rock, but the government says it is checking to make sure all the concrete is in good shape.

Bad concrete was removed and re-poured on two piers, but Whiteman said last week that one spot was not repaired.

"It's on the northeast corner, next to the lower buttress," he said. "And it's probably a metre by a metre, by probably half a metre deep."

Kevin McLeod, who now manages the project for the Northwest Territories' Department of Transportation, said the problem was reported earlier and confirmed that Whiteman also told him about it.

"And we're investigating that," said McLeod. "We're doing a complete audit now … And you know, all I can commit to is, it will be done professionally, thoroughly, and we'll do whatever it takes to ensure the bridge is as safe as we want it to be."

Earlier this month, the N.W.T government took over the bridge project, including $165 million in debt, from the Deh Cho Bridge Corp. of Fort Providence, N.W.T.

The bridge had been a joint project between the territorial government and the Deh Cho Bridge Corp., which was to operate the bridge over the Mackenzie River.

But by taking over the half-completed project, along with the bridge corporation's debt, the government's own debt by 2011 could exceed the $500-million limit set by federal legislation. Premier Floyd Roland says he's expecting a special exemption on that from the federal cabinet.

The government takeover stemmed from disagreements on terms for Phase 2.

Once completed, the $182-million bridge will link Yellowknife and other North Slave communities to southern Canada year-round, replacing the current summer ferry service and winter ice road.

The bridge was originally estimated to cost $50 million six years ago. Taxpayers were told they would be on the hook for only $9 million, and tolls collected from the bridge would eventually cover the costs.

Meanwhile, Whiteman predicts the bridge will not be done by November 2011 as scheduled.

"Everything would have to be a perfect world to make that happen. I think it's a very very aggressive commitment to make," he said.

But McLeod insists that the timetable can be met.