The Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine (RDKS) is writing a letter to Skeena Sawmills to express their disappointment over the six-year closure of a bridge crossing into a popular recreation site.
The bridge, located eight kilometres down the Upper Kitimat Forest Service Rd. over the Kitimat River, was closed to public in 2015 following an incident that damaged its guardrails rendered the structure unsafe to use.
“It’s a reason people live up here, to go camping and enjoy the great outdoors so having a high-value campsite like that closed off certainly doesn’t make people happy,” says Phil Germuth, chair of the RDKS and mayor of the District of Kitimat. “Skeena Sawmills themselves didn’t do anything about it and just left it instead of fixing it or trying to find the person accountable to make them pay for it, they just basically put a block on the bridge.”
Germuth says the damage was the result of reckless behavior caused by a young person driving their truck over the side of the bridge. The case was never followed up and no charges were laid. The bridge is owned by Skeena Sawmills for access to logging sites but the company hasn’t used it for the past 15 years.
Germuth adds there have been a few companies and contractors that have approached the RDKS to repair it, along with a promise from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to improve the campsite area once the bridge is repaired. Despite these offers, Germuth says there are legal barriers prohibiting anyone from moving forward.
“As a regional district part of the Local Government Act, we are not allowed to pay to fix another company’s bridge because that’s seen as assisting a business, which we’re clearly not allowed to do,” he explains. “I don’t think it really would be a huge thing to get it back opened up but it really falls on Skeena Sawmills to be the one to lead this and help because the regional district did everything they could to try to get parties together. But of course, nobody can take money to fix somebody else’s bridge.”
Many citizens have expressed frustration as the bridge remains closed with no plans to reopen and some have even reported the bridge has been used “privately” by key holders to access the site.
“It didn’t make sense that because of one person’s actions, everybody’s getting punished with this campsite locked out,” says Germuth. “And then of course, there is even more frustration when you see somebody with access to the key who’s using it for themselves with their friends.”
Skeena Sawmills’ woodlands manager Greg Demille says he doesn’t believe that’s the case as there are some organizations that need to cross over the bridge, including DFO, to conduct their work and could easily be misinterpreted as trespassers.
“To my knowledge, there’s no key given out for that bridge to any public stakeholder… or a private citizen or anything like that,” says Demille. “And we did switch the lock out because of the concerns from the public about the use of that rec site.”
He says Skeena Sawmills is willing to fix the bridge but with other decaying parts besides the guardrail in need of repair, the cost is at approximately $150,000 — which is a high price to pay for a structure they have no intent on using in the near future.
And although Germuth suggests they use their own lumber to offset the price, Demille says the lumber that Skeena Sawmills distributes is not treated and they require processed wood to keep the bridge from eventually rotting.
He notes he understands it’s an important campsite for many locals and that Skeena Sawmills is willing to work with local companies to repair the bridge.
“We’re certainly on board with this, we took the steps to have the bridge reassessed to see what the repair costs would be,” says Demille. “If there is an organization or somebody that’s quite interested in doing that, we certainly will work with them to try to find something that could meet the safety requirements and business requirements to fix that bridge.”
Once a plan is in place, Demille estimates it would take four to six weeks for the bridge to be reopened to the public.