British Columbia

Prince George removes floating digger as ice jam stretches 25 km

As the ice jam on the Nechako River grows even longer, city officials in Prince George, B.C., are pulling the "Amphibex" machine out of the river for good.

As the ice jam on the Nechako River continues to grow, city officials in Prince George, B.C., are pulling the "Amphibex" machine out of the river for good.

A view of the Nechako River from a helicopter Monday shows the ice jam. ((Lyle Larsen/B.C. Environment Ministry))

The floating excavator was brought in with much fanfare 10 days ago, with plans to break up the ice jam on the river by digging through it starting from the bottom end, at the junction with the Fraser River.

Working around the clock, the machine was able to break a channel through the ice for a short distance up the river.

But with the expiration of the 10 days of funding — worth more than $375,000 — from the Provincial Emergency Program, officials are putting the floating digger in dry dock, and switching to a new plan of attack.

On Wednesday, officials hope to have equipment in place to start piping warm water into the river from a nearby pulp mill. The plan is to warm the river enough to melt the ice.

On Monday, with a cold snap blanketing much of B.C., the pack ice grew to more than 22 kilometres in length, stretching past the city's boundaries for the first time.

On Tuesday, the ice jam was even longer, stretching 25 kilometres.

Lyle Larsen, a provincial flood hazard technician, told CBC News the ice jam's growth is not necessarily cause for alarm and dikes and berms should protect riverfront homes.

"The city should be able to handle any surges or high water that's produced from the ice jam," he said.

"The cold weather right now is a plus, in that it stiffens up the ice cover. Over the short term, I'm not expecting to see any major activity," he said.

But Larsen said there could be surges in the river's level later in the week as temperatures rise.

City officials first declared a state of emergency on Dec. 11, and ordered dozens of homes and business along the river evacuated.