Fort Simpson lobbies for $2M Liard River bridge study

The mayor of Fort Simpson, N.W.T., is asking the territorial government for a $2-million bridge study for the village.

A bridge study is the first step to figure out if Fort Simpson needs an all-seasons crossing

Fort Simpson is only accessible by an ice road in the winter and a ferry service in the summer. Mayor Sean Whelly thinks this spot, connecting the Mackenzie Highway on both sides of the Liard River, could work for a permanent bridge. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

The mayor of Fort Simpson, N.W.T., will make the case for a $2-million bridge study at a Northwest Territories Association of Communities meeting this week in Inuvik.

Mayor Sean Whelly said the village already passed a resolution to lobby the government late last year for a study — but he's hoping support from the association will give it more weight with the territorial cabinet.

"We're reasonable in Fort Simpson — we're not asking for a bridge tomorrow, we're asking for a bridge study tomorrow," Whelly told CBC. 

Gerald Antoine, chief of the Liidlii Kue First Nation, said his membership supports the idea of a bridge to Fort Simpson. The next step, he continued, is to figure out a strategy to get the study off the ground. 

"The conversation has started and now we need to look at getting support … and how to move it ahead," Antoine said. 

Up to 6 weeks without commercial vehicles

The only way to drive into Fort Simpson from the south is by ice road in the winter or a ferry service in the summer. Both services connect sections of the Mackenzie Highway on opposite sides of the Liard River, a distance spanning about 731 metres. 

Whelly said he hears a request for a bridge "over and over again" from residents. 

"People generally speaking want some progress toward that access to a bridge," Whelly said. "They [the public] keep telling me, 'Sean, you need to go and push for that.'"

Fort Simpson mayor, Sean Whelly, says there's nothing the Village can do. 'To us, she's just like every other taxpayer.' (CBC)

During winter freeze up and spring break up, Whelly said the village faces up to six weeks on each end without any commercial trucks coming in or out. This, Whelly continued, forces the price of goods and services to spike — making life less affordable. 

"People have to start stockpiling things like fuel, the businesses have to really think farther ahead," Whelly said. "It just adds to the cost of living in Fort Simpson a lot." 

Fort Simpson is only accessible by a ferry or ice road over the Liard River throughout the year. Mayor Sean Whelly says a new bridge could replace the ferry crossing, connecting both sides of the Mackenzie Highway all year long. (CBC )

The bridge study would take at least a couple of years to complete, Whelly said. After the study, the next step would be to lobby for federal funding and put a tender out for the project. 

Mackenzie Valley Highway a priority for 19th Assembly

The Mackenzie Valley Highway, if completed, would connect Norman Wells to Wrigley, north of Fort Simpson on Highway 1. The previous Legislative Assembly approved a series of smaller projects along the highway's proposed route, including a bridge over Great Bear River, near Tulita. 

Whelly said a bridge to Fort Simpson should be studied if the Mackenzie Valley Highway is a top priority for this new government. 

"If it's a priority, let's get the job done — let's start working on all the pieces, let's not forget about some of the pieces because they're too expensive or hard to do," Whelly said. "Let's try to get things done in the right order." 

The development of the highway system was included in the territorial government's recent four-year mandate, but there is no specific mention of a Fort Simpson bridge. 

The N.W.T. Department of Infrastructure did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but is working on one.