Some residents fear effects of all-terrain vehicle traffic

A bridge too far for Sylvia Grinnell Park?


Two Iqaluit residents are worried that their visions of serene walks on the west bank of the Sylvia Grinnell River will be crushed under the tire treads of all-terrain vehicles.

The Government of Nunavut plans to start construction this summer on a bridge crossing the river that bears the name of Nunavut's oldest territorial park.

To John Maurice and Rhoda Ungalaq, that's good news. But the notion that the bridge could be accessible to ATVs is bad news, and the couple has started circulating a petition calling on the GN to tell ATV riders that none shall pass.

Maurice said parts of the park east of the river, which have been easily accessible for decades, bear the scars of ATV use in the form of ruts criss-crossing the land.

"We've seen what ATVs can do and we don't want to see it duplicated on the other side of the river," Maurice said.

During the summer, the west side of the park is accessible only by boat, or by fording the river when water levels are low.

Maurice fears a bridge accessible to ATVs will bring muddy ruts and litter to the other side. He also says noise from the machines could scare off game.

"That plowing up of the earth is not going to go away in 100 years," he said. "That trail will be there 1,000 years."

That's why he and Ungalaq started circulating a petition demanding the bridge be restricted to foot traffic only. Maurice said they gathered more than 100 signatures in less than three days.

But Olayuk Akesuk, Nunavut's environment minister, said he was told by Iqaluit MLAs that there's local demand for an all-purpose bridge that supports ATVs and snowmobiles.

"The pressure is coming from the community that's been here for a long, long time," Akesuk said in a telephone interview.

He wouldn't say if there was a magic number of signatures petitioners could muster to have the design changed and said his mind's made up on the project.

"No," Akesuk said. "A lot of people are also supporting the bridge because they've been waiting for this bridge for a long time."

It's a plan that dates back to when the American military was here. But the bridge over the Sylvia Grinnell River languished as nothing more than a pipe dream until February, when John Baird, federal environment minister announced $1.6 million for the project along with $240 million in infrastructure funding for Nunavut.

The petitioners aren't only ones concerned about the bridge's impact on the environment.

During a meeting of the Legislature's Ajauqtiit committee earlier this month, Steve Mapsalak, MLA for Akulliq, and committee chair, praised the announcement of funds for the bridge but also urged the GN to proceed with caution.

"While the standing committee welcomes new federal investments in the territory, it is important to be aware that enabling significantly greater access to the other side of the river comes with potential for creating new pressures on the environment," Mapsalak said.

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