Sandy Beach Road near Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales Island eroded from recent rainfall. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Sandy Beach Road near Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales Island eroded from recent rainfall. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

Although much of Southeast Alaska is rain forest and gets up to 100 inches of rain a year, only occasionally does the precipitation come down so fast it causes problems. That’s what happened recently in Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales Island.

Three days of torrential rainfall on Prince of Wales Island has caused minor flooding, damaging Coffman Cove’s fish weir and a nearby forest service road. Ten inches of rain fell between Thursday and Sunday.

Misty Fitzpatrick works for the City of Coffman Cove, a town of about 200 residents on the northeastern part of the island.

“We’re not prepared for such a large volume of water,” Fitzpatrick said.

She said the fish weir at Coffman Creek a few miles out of town fell apart. The city is co-owner of the weir and at this point the damage is still being assessed. She said workers were recovering parts on Monday.

“We usually actually remove that weir on September 1st but we didn’t quite make it to September 1st,” said Fitzpatrick. “The rains a couple days ago removed it for us so we’re going to be picking up those pieces and putting them back together.”

The weir raises King salmon which are later released. Luckily, the damage shouldn’t affect any fish since this year’s return was over, according to Fitzpatrick.

The heavy rain has also damaged one of the nearby forest service roads. A large ditch eroded across Sandy Beach road about eight miles south of Coffman Cove. The road leads to a recreational area at Luck Lake.

Rachelle Huddleston-Lorton is the District Ranger for the area. She said it’s a common problem with roads on the island.

“In places where we don’t normally see that kind of flow coming off the hillside, the culverts got full and when they fill, they overflow and then the water gets onto the roads and so at that point the roads start to, the water digs little rivulets into the road and then those get bigger and bigger,” she said.

Huddleston-Lorton said the erosion on Sandy Beach was four feet deep and four feet wide. Fitzpatrick had heard it was eight feet deep. Either way, the road will likely remain closed for a few weeks until it can be repaired. But that will be considered a temporary fix. That particular location is susceptible to erosion so the forest service will consider constructing a bridge there if they can get the funding.

“It’s a pretty important road in that it provides direct access from Thorne Bay to Coffman Cove up the water side of the island,” Huddleston-Lorton said. “There is a paved road that goes around into Coffman Cove from the other side so people who were wanting to go to Luck Lake recreation area or Eagle Creek to go fishing would actually have to go around to Coffman Cove and come in from the other side. So it’s not super critical in terms of people’s daily commute or access to work or to town but it’s important from a recreation and a subsistence standpoint.”

Huddleston-Lorton said the heavy rainfall also damaged other forest service roads in the area. There are some downed trees as well.