Village in northwestern B.C. cut off to vehicles after snowplow badly damages bridge

Village in northwestern B.C. cut off to vehicles after snowplow badly damages bridge

by Sue Jones
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Helicopters have been put on standby for people stranded in the community of Kispiox after a snowplow broke structural timbers along the length of the Kispiox Bridge.

Kispiox Bridge Cut Off

Dozens of vehicles have been parked on either side of the Kispiox Bridge near Hazelton, B.C. Residents of Kispiox Village have to walk across the bridge and get a ride from someone on the other side after a snowplow badly damaged the only vehicle crossing into the community. (Kai Nagata)

Hundreds of people in a remote northwestern B.C. village have been cut off after the bridge into their community was badly damaged by a snowplow Thursday morning.

Photos sent to CBC show broken timbers along the length of the wooden Kispiox Bridge, near Hazelton, B.C.

The bridge is the only way for vehicles to get in and out of Kispiox Village, a First Nations community of about 750, 300 kilometres northeast of Prince Rupert. Helicopters have been put on standby for people stranded in the area of northwest British Columbia in the event of an emergency. 

In a release, Dawson Road Maintenance said one of its snowplows “clipped several of the wood bridge’s vertical support structures with a wing blade, causing structural damage.”

The company said engineer and repair crews were on site and that the bridge was open to foot traffic.

Kispiox Bridge

The Kispiox Bridge was badly damaged by a snowplow Thursday, preventing residents of the community of 750 from driving to Hazelton, the nearest town in northwestern B.C. (submitted by Edna Boyd)

According to an earlier Facebook post by Kispiox band manager Blanka Jecminkova, the bridge deck has been shifting and cracking.

Witness Sadie Johnson was on her way to work when she saw the snowplow drive onto the one-lane bridge with the plow blade still down. 

“When the blade hit the bridge the whole bridge shook,” said Johnson.

“It did damage to the beginning of the bridge but he didn’t stop. He kept going and he hit three other beams in the middle of the bridge. It looked like he was going to stop and pull the blade up but he still kept going and hit the tail end of the bridge.”

Johnson said she crossed the bridge in her vehicle right after the snowplow, and then watched a school bus drive across. 

“We had no idea it had shifted a metre underneath,” she said. “It was only later I learned they had to shut it down because of major damage.”

Ten-hour detour being set up

According to Johnson, people like her who have to drive across the bridge daily are now forced to walk across and pick up a ride on the other side. 

That includes high school students who attend classes in Hazelton, and anyone traveling to Hazelton or beyond for groceries, work or medical appointments.

Eldon Whalen lives in Kispiox but works as a realtor in Hazelton.

He’s had to cancel all his appointments for the foreseeable future but said his bigger concern is caring for his pregnant wife who is due in a month but could go into labour early.

“We’re talking about getting airlifted out,” he said. “It just adds more issues, more complications getting to the hospital.”

Sadie Johnson

Sadie Johnson transports groceries home by wagon after leaving her vehicle on the other side of the damaged Kispiox Bridge. (Sadie Johnson)

Kispiox Valley Community Association president Kathy Clay said she’s been told a detour is being opened along the Mitten Forest Service Road, but warned it will have limited value.

“It’s a 230-kilometre one-way road from here to Hazelton,” she said. “It’s our getaway road but it’s a six-hour round-trip to Hazelton, instead of 30 minutes. So that’s not really feasible, but it is of use to bring in propane or things people really need.” 

Clay said early word is the bridge will have to be replaced. 

As of Friday afternoon, the Ministry of Transportation said there are no detours available and no estimated time of reopening.

Kispiox Bridge

Another view of the damage to the Kispiox Bridge. (submitted by Edna Boyd)

Kispiox Bridge Map

Kispiox is a small village 300 kilometres northeast of Prince Rupert. (CBC News)

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