The construction of a bridge to span the Mackenzie River near Fort Providence has been considered since 1958, when the Government of Canada commissioned a report that indicated the cost of a bridge would be $6.2 million ($48 million in 2010 dollars).
By 1975, that cost had risen to an estimate of between $25 and $30 million ($103 million to $124 million in 2010 dollars).
In 2000, the Fort Providence Combined Council Alliance, comprised of leaders of the Fort Providence Dene, Metis, and Hamlet Councils, presented the GNWT with a proposal for a partnership to construct a bridge across the Mackenzie River. This was followed by a feasibility study which was completed in February 2002.
The study proposed a Public Private Partnership whereby the GNWT would contribute financially to the Deh Cho Bridge through the collection of commercial tolls and savings from no longer having to maintain a ferry and ice bridge at the Fort Providence crossings. The Deh Cho Bridge Corporation (DCBC) was incorporated to represent the interests of the community shareholders. A concession was proposed giving DCBC the right to design, construct, and maintain the Deh Cho Bridge for a period of 35 years, after which the bridge would be transferred to the GNWT.
In November 2002, the GNWT signed a Memorandum of Intent with the Fort Providence Combined Council Alliance for the construction of the Deh Cho Bridge. MLAs conducted public hearings in Fort Providence, Behchoko, and Yellowknife on the proposal, and there was widespread public support.
In June 2003, the Deh Cho Bridge Act was passed, which authorized the Minister of Transportation to enter into a Concession Agreement for the Deh Cho Bridge project. The proposal went through the environmental assessment and regulatory process in 2004, with no significant environmental issues identified. In March 2005, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs accepted the Report of the environmental assessment for the Deh Cho Bridge. By July, 2005, DCBC was issued a water licence and land use permit for the construction of the bridge. A Navigable Waters Protection Act approval was issued in October 2005.
In May 2005, the community held a planning meeting to plan for opportunities that were expected to arise from the construction of the Deh Cho Bridge. By October 2005, the project was ready to be tendered. There was only one bidder, and the bid was rejected due to price. A re-tender of the project in February 2006 was also unsuccessful due to high prices. Without additional financial commitments, the project was not considered viable.
In March 2007, the GNWT made a commitment to provide a $2 million annual subsidy, in addition to its earlier commitments, to move the project forward. This was sufficient for the community to sign the Concession Agreement with the GNWT and a contract with Atcon Construction to construct the Deh Cho Bridge. A community celebration was held on August 24, 2007 to mark the official start of construction.
The community through the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation was responsible for Phase 1 of the project. When it became evident that DCBC did not have the capacity to deliver the project on budget, the GNWT acted under the Concession Agreement to replace DCBC as the project manager. The Department of Transportation is now responsible for on-site construction of the Deh Cho Bridge.
On Friday, June 18th, 2010, the GNWT and community leaders signed agreements setting out the terms of the transition from DCBC to GNWT responsibility for the Deh Cho Bridge project, including the termination of the Concession Agreement. Under the Letter Agreement, the GNWT acquires full control of the bridge project, and becomes owner of the bridge and related works. Ownership of intellectual property and DCBC equity is transferred to the GNWT, and the possibility of further delays to the project and claims due to litigation between the parties is eliminated.
The agreements also speak to the ongoing role of the community in the Deh Cho Bridge project. The Community Opportunities and Involvement Agreement honours the GNWT’s commitment to ensure the community of Fort Providence benefits from opportunities arising from the construction and use of the Deh Cho Bridge. Under the agreement, the community is to receive a grant of $8000 per month during construction to promote community involvement in the project, and a grant of $200,000 per year (totalling $7 million over 35 years) during operation of the bridge to create community benefits and economic opportunities related to the bridge.
The GNWT takes over responsibility from DCBC for the operation and maintenance of the bridge, allowing for own-force operation which will reduce administrations costs (estimated at $50,000 per year) and reduced insurance premiums (for a savings estimated at $300,000 per year). Return on equity payments to DCBC required under the Concession Agreement are eliminated (for minimum annual savings of $63,000 to as much as $660,000). The GNWT will be able to downscale the toll count and classification system and reporting requirements, reducing GNWT capital and operation costs. There will also be overall gains in project efficiencies with the reduction in duplicate legal, engineering and project management services.
The GNWT expects to continue a productive working relationship with the community of Fort Providence on opportunities arising from the Deh Cho Bridge throughout its 75-100 year expected lifespan.