Storm surge hits Toksook Bay

Storm surges against Toksook Bay on Oct. 1, 2015. (Photo courtesy Jimmie Lincoln)
Storm surges against Toksook Bay on Oct. 1, 2015. (Photo courtesy Jimmie Lincoln)

October opened with the season’s first fall storm, flooding communities across Western Alaska’s coast. In the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, strong surges hit Toksook Bay.

“There was some massive wave action going on, and the cliffs were scoured by waves and some of our gabions, our seawalls, got damaged,” said Toksook Bay City Administrator Paul Chimiugak.

Gabions are cages of rocks often used to reduce erosion. The ones forming the Toksook Bay seawall, Chimiugak said, are about 30 years old and falling apart. Last summer, the village reinforced the seawall with boulders, but Thursday’s storm scattered those supports.

“We tried everything to keep them in place, but it didn’t work too well. So now it’s back to square one with that area.”

Twenty-foot-high cliffs rise above the seawall with houses perched on top. With every storm, as the waves tear away the cliffs, they push the precipice closer to the homes, threatening to one day take the houses with them.

With housing in the community limited, Chimiugak said the residents do not currently have plans to move.

Half a century ago, Chimiugak said, the cliffs stretched 40 ft from the houses. Now, they sit 10 ft away.

“We’ve lost that much to wave action, and it seems to be speeding up a little because of the high water.”

Chimiugak said that water seems to rise higher every year, intensifying the damage.

“Every year we expect this storm to come in, but with the high water, it’s getting worse.”

Water crested 30 ft in Thursday’s storm. Boats not brought inland far enough were damaged. Two boats sank. Others rammed fish racks, wrecking the frames.

The boats shelter behind a spit of land that acts as a protective harbor.

Chimiugak said the city has completed paperwork for a feasibility study to construct barriers to protect the spit. But the papers are useless until the city can secure funding.

Chimiugak said there are no current plans to rebuild the seawall.

Toksook Bay typically experiences two to three fall storms annually.