Ross River residents block access to river to save bridge

People in Ross River, Yukon, have gathered on the ice of the Pelly River, vowing to stop any demolition work on the historic suspension bridge there.

Second World War-era footbridge scheduled for demolition this month

In this photo posted to the Friends of the Ross River Footbridge Facebook page, protesters rally last week in an effort to save the historic suspension bridge. People in Ross River, Yukon, have gathered on the ice of the Pelly River this week to block access by demolition crews. (Facebook)

People in Ross River, Yukon, have gathered on the ice of the Pelly River, vowing to stop any demolition work on the historic suspension bridge there.

Last year an engineering report said the bridge is at imminent risk of collapsing. The Yukon government says the 70-year-old footbridge cannot be repaired and plans to demolish it by the end of the month. 

It is the longest single-span suspension footbridge in Canada and the U.S. The bridge is 319 metres long from anchorage to anchorage, with the bridge deck spanning 192 metres.

The bridge was built by the American military as part of the Second World War Canol project to pipe oil from Norman Wells, N.W.T. to a refinery in Whitehorse. The refinery was shuttered shortly afterwards. 

People in Ross River have been using it ever since to cross the Pelly River, until the government closed it for repairs in 2012. 

About 30 people were waiting at the Pelly River Tuesday when workers came to drill holes into the ice.

Brian Ladue, chief of the Ross River Dena Council, says government officials were politely told the workers weren't allowed onto the river. The company packed up its equipment and left town.

Ladue says he understands how much the bridge means to his people.

"They really want to see this bridge saved, and we stand behind our people and we'll do what we need to do to try and save this important structure."

The Yukon government says it will save the 70-year-old suspension bridge across the Pelly River at Ross River, Yukon. (courtesy of Barry Kulan)

Protesters came out in Faro last week. In Ross River, about 20 people with placards greeted Yukon Education minister Elaine Taylor and Pelly-Nisutlin MLA Stacey Hassard during their visit there.

Florence Etzel says protesters were told the bridge is a safety concern because of its proximity to the ferry, but she says the ferry landing could be moved downstream.

Etzel says new criteria added to the federal government's Legacy Fund is an ideal solution. The Legacy Fund, which provides funding for community capital projects, recently made projects marking the 75th anniversary of locally significant events directly related to Canadian participation in the Second World War eligible for funding.

Community Services minister Brad Cathers says he won't relent on the need to tear down the bridge but he does say there's a possibility of restoring the structure, once it's been dropped onto the ice of the Pelly River.

The government has hired a contractor to take down the suspension bridge's wooden decking and cabling, leaving only the steel towers at either end.​

He says the Yukon Government is considering issuing a request for proposals to examine whether the bridge can be salvaged, once it's down, "to take a look at the elements of the bridge, to see if it can be safely stabilized and reconstructed and if so, what it's going to cost."

The plan is to move the bridge onto dry land, he says, and store it while engineers assess whether it can be repaired.

Cathers says the bridge will come down as scheduled, but wouldn't explain how that will happen, while the Dena are denying access to the river ice.

He says he welcomes a chance to speak with the Ross River Dena chief and council.


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