Dodging ice road disasters
Recommendations made after ice-crossing incident

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Providence (Feb 04/00) - After a 61,000-kilogram tandem-tanker fuel truck was hauled out of a gaping hole it created in the Fort Providence ice-crossing, hamlet councillors here have made five recommendations to prevent a similar incident from occurring.

Topping the list of suggestions is to increase the presence of highway patrol officers in the Fort Providence area when the ice crossing is restricted to light traffic. Improving signs along the ice-crossing route and a public safety campaign are also being urged by hamlet council.

According to a hamlet press release, the public safety factor, along with the potential contamination of the Mackenzie River and domestic water supply of communities downstream is a foremost concern.

"There is no reason for this to be happening," acting mayor Theresa Bonnetrouge said. "We were very lucky there was no loss of life in this case."

Art Barnes, Department of Transportation superintendent for the North/South Slave said the DoT is prepared to review the messages on its signs, possibly using lighted signs or even an overhead sign, he suggested. But the issue goes beyond that, he said.

"The signage that we have out there is getting the message through, but people are still willing to make bad decisions," he said.

Increasing fines under the Motor Vehicles Act and the Public Highways Act, could also be looked at, as suggested by the hamlet council, Barnes acknowledged. On the other hand, a more prominent role for the Highway Patrol may not be effective because they don't tend to work at night when most ice-crossing offences tend to occur, he noted.

"I think we have to examine other ways that will increase the potency of what we're doing, and try to save a dollar as well," he said.

Two debriefing sessions were held in the community following last month's incident, the first involved members of the public. The second, held last Thursday, included officials from DIAND, RWED and the Department of Transportation.

Among the other recommendations hamlet council has tendered are for government and industry to emphasize safety to new truck drivers in the North. Finally, they are requesting an inter-jurisdictional arrangements to ensure offenders outside the NWT are brought to justice for offenses committed in the territories.

"I know the interest seems to have gone down somewhat since the truck has been removed, but I think the issue is bigger than that," senior administrative officer Albert Lafferty said, adding that the ice-crossing had been damaged last year too, although the incident was not as serious.

There is some speculation within the community that some overweight trucks may be continuing to traverse the ice-crossing illegally.

"I think it's foolish on the part of the drivers to take that risk," he said. "Some of them are just being impatient."