Trees block a forest road on Mitkof Island south of Petersburg. (Photo by U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Joey Boggs)

Heavy rainfall damaged some forest roads, caused at least one landslide and flooded some ditches, yards and homes in the Petersburg area last week. But the area escaped relatively unscathed compared to the natural disaster that occurred to the north in Haines.

The late November early December storm dumped inches of rain on the region and did some damage to forest roads on the Tongass National Forest in this area.

Petersburg district ranger Ted Sandhofer said he’s had reports of blocked drainage culverts and some washed out roads.

“We try to design our culverts and our infrastructure and our roads for like 50 year events and this last record rainfall might have exceeded that so it’s not surprising we had some issues out on the road system,” Sandhofer said.

He said three culverts were plugged with debris on Three Lakes Loop road near Falls Creek, and backed up water started to wash out part of that road. Construction company Rock-N-Road has repaired that damage already.

There was also some damage on the 40000 Road near where it meets the Three Lakes Loop Road along with a small slide across the Three Lakes Loop road between the 40000 road and the Falls Creek bridge. Another company Reid Brothers was scheduled to remove that material this week. Sandhofer said other plugged culverts on the Twin Creek Road were cleared by hand. He’s also heard of a slide in the Portage Bay area.

“You know there’ll probably be more and more discovered as we go out and look at the district,” Sandhofer said. “And I would appreciate if any of the public finds some issues on the road that they give us a call so we know about it.”

The heavy rain also flooded yards and ditches in Petersburg. And a sewer pump station in Scow Bay was overwhelmed with storm water causing waste water to back up into three homes on the Wrangell Narrows side of Mitkof Highway south of town.

The borough has been planning to upgrade that pump station and borough manager Steve Giesbrecht told the assembly Monday the work should happen next year.

“If COVID hadn’t kind of slowed our contractor’s efforts down, we would have been able to get that project done last summer and we would have been in a much better position to handle the extreme storm flows. The project is planned to be started in the spring,” Giesbrecht said.

The borough is asking home owners in Scow Bay south of Kings Row to check drains and sewer clean-outs to make sure rainfall is going into storm drains and not the sewer system.

Rains also backed up a storm drain and some flooding in the hallway at the community center. A drainage culvert at the borough’s public works yard backed up and started to scour the rock embankment. Giesbrecht said the embankment is holding but staff have moved equipment off that part of the property in case it fails.

Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy issued a disaster declaration following the storm. But Giesbrecht made clear that impacts in Petersburg are not at the level of the disaster seen in Haines.

“The governor’s disaster declaration does include Petersburg,” he said Monday. “But we have not reached out to say we need National Guard resources or anything like that. We know we can do that if in fact something bad happens but so far we have weathered this pretty well.”

While Petersburg had its wettest summer on record this year, the annual record does not look to be in jeopardy. By the second week in December Petersburg has over 114 inches of rain, well short of the record if 136.88 inches from 1991. And just five years ago in 2015 the area recorded nearly that much, 135.98 inches. However, from the drought years of 2017 and 2018 the change has been dramatic. Petersburg saw only 76.03 inches two years ago, nearly 40 inches less than this years total with three weeks left to go in the year.

One benefit of the rain is topping off for hydro-electric lakes in Southeast. Several in the region were nearly full after the latest storm, setting up Petersburg with a good supply of electrical power for the winter.