Innovative thinking clears dangerous ice from footbridge

Visitors to the Nakusp Hot Springs are once again able to enjoy a nearby popular tourist attraction, thanks to some outside-the-box thinking by Village work crews.

The Village announced on its Facebook page that it was reopening the Kuskanax footbridge after closing it January 20 due to ice and snow buildup on the structure.

This year’s odd weather – cold and snowy, then warm and rainy – allowed snow and ice to build up asymmetrically on the roof of the bridge – with more on one side than the other.

“It was loaded in a way that distorted the superstructure,” said Erik Bobicki, the director of operations for the Village of Nakusp. “We were concerned the weight on one side of the bridge was going to compromise it… it was causing some distortion. You could visibly see the bridge twisting.”

Every year, thousands of tourists and locals enjoy walking along the forest path from the Nakusp hot springs to the footbridge, which spans 36 metres across a gorge formed by the Kuskanax River. The structure is a point of pride for the community. It was built using local materials and labour in 2012.

With an estimated 5-10 tons of snow and ice creating a lopsided load, Bobicki said they needed to find a solution to the problem before any permanent damage was done to the structure.

“It was a conundrum. We were thinking we would have to wait this out, close the bridge until Mother Nature takes its course,” he says.

Consulting with the bridge’s architects, they briefly considered using electric heat traces, or trying to knock the snow off manually, until staff came up with a solution that seems obvious in hindsight.

“There was a brainwave that happened,” says Bobicki. “We’ve got the hot springs pipeline that’s actually carried across the gorge under the bridge – a four-inch plastic pipe. There’s some maintenance ports on it so we can drain it for maintenance. The operators tapped into that hot water using a booster pump and a fire hose, and hosed off the roof with hot water.”

But even then it was no easy task, taking more than four hours of pouring 50°C water on the roof to finally melt all the snow and ice away.

But the job worked so well the Village was able to announce last week it was reopening the span to foot traffic.

“My favourite solutions to things are elegant and creative like this,” says Bobicki. “I love seeing this kind of creativity – simple solutions like this.”

The Village is going to do some inspections on the bridge and set up systems so the hot-water treatment can be quickly applied again if needed.

“We’ll do it periodically through the winter, maybe once every two weeks to keep it clean. So I can sleep better,” Bobicki joked.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice