Near tragedy draws attention to use of N.B. ice roads
Published Tuesday, February 14, 2012 6:20PM AST
FREDERICTON - A near tragedy on a frozen New Brunswick river is drawing attention to the use of unsanctioned ice roads, but the provincial government says it can't do anything to stop people from driving on them.
Police are discouraging drivers from using a five-kilometre stretch of ice road on the Kennebecasis River -- known among locals as the "Hillbilly Highway" -- after a truck fell through the ice on the weekend.
Christopher Raynes said his truck got stuck on the road Sunday night and his father arrived shortly after to help. But his father's truck fell into a hole, and he had just enough time to rescue his dog and escape before it sank to the bottom of the river more than 50 metres deep.
"The truck just disappeared within 15 to 30 seconds," Raynes said in an interview Tuesday.
"At first I didn't see him. I could hear him hollering. I didn't know if he went down with the truck or not."
The ice road, which is plowed by local residents, had been open for two weeks. It didn't open at all last year because of poor ice conditions.
RCMP Cpl. Pat Cole said the police do not patrol ice roads and advise drivers to stay off.
"We don't go out of our way to go onto the ice," he said. "It's safer for us to stay on the roads and safer for people to stay on the roads."
Cole said there are about three unsanctioned ice roads in the area, as well as people using vehicles on the ice in various locations to go ice fishing.
He said the province's Department of Transportation set up a barricade on the route where the accident occurred, but later removed it.
"They want nothing to do with it," Cole said. "They don't sanction it, so they don't want to be involved."
Officials with the department said Transportation Minister Claude Williams was unavailable for an interview. But in an email, the department said the barrier was erected by staff as a temporary warning to residents that the ice was not safe.
"However, Department of Transportation does not have the authority to erect barriers as the passage across the ice is not considered a road, so it was removed," the department said.
"We can't prevent people from using ice roads, but we are certainly concerned about the risk they are taking in those cases."
Steve Gatien, who owns the Kingston General Merchants Store, said he expects residents will continue to use the ice road because it can cut as much as an hour off the drive between the Kingston Peninsula and Saint John.
Gatien said the ice road has been used for more than 200 years, and was once an important route for moving timber.
"When the Loyalists came here, the river was the highway and people just continued the tradition," he said.
"When I was a kid, all kinds of wood went across that ice road."
Gatien said the government should allow people to use the ice road at their own risk.
But Liberal transportation critic Rick Doucet said drivers should be heeding the RCMP's advice to stay off the ice, calling on the Mounties and the provincial government to work together.
"The province has to be providing some kind of leadership here," he said.
"We've got to keep people off the ice to keep them safe and we've got to work with the RCMP."
There are no government sanctioned ice roads in New Brunswick, unlike the Northwest Territories, where there are more than 1,400 kilometres of sanctioned ice roads.