Grumbling over gravel in Dawson City

People in Dawson City are complaining about flat tires — dozens of them. They maintain the Yukon government is using a different rock on highways one man calls 'flint-like shards.' The government says the mix hasn't changed.

Dawson City mechanic fixing flats, says he's 'getting 40 tires a month with these rocks'

Hector Renaud holds a rock chip he says was removed from his van's tire. He got two flats on the same day outside Dawson City. 'I'm told it's a lava rock type material. When you crush lava rock all you get is nice, sharp razor edges,' he says. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Some people in Dawson City, Yukon, say material being used on local roads is puncturing a lot of tires. 

'We're probably getting 40 tires a month with these rocks in them," said Dustin McCulley, who owns Endurance Automotive. 

He says the shop's three full-time employees have been busy patching flats. 

McCulley has been in business in Dawson City since 2004. He suspects something has changed in the rock used on highways by the Yukon government.

"[It's] a dark black rock that's in the shape of an arrowhead. One end's flat and one end is pointed like a razor. It pushes right through our soft winter tires," he said.

Customers have told him that one area near Rock Creek is especially bad. So far, the affected vehicles have all been minivans and small cars, McCulley says.   

"We're predicting that most of this is coming from the sanding trucks. We don't know where else it would be coming from," he said. 

"This is one of the worst years I've seen."

Fixing a flat with a patch costs $25 at his shop.

"Some people are coming in with three in a week — the same tires punctured three times," he said.

McCulley says a few customers have complained to Yukon's Department of Highways and Public Works. 

He seems to be the only shop in Dawson to notice a problem, though. CBC also called Small Town Automotive, and Bonanza Klondike Inc., and neither said they were dealing with more flats this year.

Nothing has changed, department says

Yukon's Department of Highways and Public Works says it doesn't understand the complaints. Spokesperson Doris Wurfbaum says the department has been using the same material for years. 

She describes it as an "engineered, 10-millimetre standard aggregate," which is used on roads and highways throughout Yukon. 

"This is the first I've heard of it, certainly," she said of complaints.

"I cannot really speak to the issue of flat tires. Our number one priority is safety on the highway. We need an aggregate that is going to stick to the road to increase friction and traction for the travelling public," she said.

Driver wants sample tested

But Hector Renaud, a placer miner and longtime Dawson resident, is also convinced there's a problem. He recently punctured two tires, while travelling to Dawson from Flat Creek. 

He says the crushed rock has "flint-like shards" and he believes it's only a matter of time before someone runs into real trouble. 

"Who carries two spares?" Renaud asked. 

"At some point, at 40 below, this will create a situation where a family with kids will be stuck out on the road with two flat tires, or blow out a tire and create a vehicle in the ditch — or worse, a roll-over accident," he said. 

Renaud has collected a sample and is hoping an independent party will identify the sharp material. 

"I'm told it's a lava rock-type material. When you crush lava rock, all you get is nice, sharp razor edges," he said.


Philippe Morin is a reporter based in Whitehorse. Follow him on Twitter @YukonPhilippe.