Maine DOT officials stand on the scene of a washout near Cyr Plantation on Saturday morning. Credit: Courtesy of Van Buren Fire Department

CYR PLANTATION, Maine — Flash flooding from heavy rain and a beaver dam that broke loose caused a major washout that affects 22 miles of Route 1 from Van Buren to Caribou in northern Aroostook County.

The problem is that it won’t be an easy fix and could take weeks to repair.

People from Madawaska and Van Buren often travel Route 1 to reach the more southern parts of Aroostook. Both towns have international border ports to Canada. With Maine tourism headed back toward full swing following the COVID-19 pandemic, locals and Canadian tourists alike will have to seek alternate, less-direct routes to southern Maine destinations during the early summer season to avoid the washed-out road.

Meteorologist and program hydrologist James Sinko of the National Weather Service in Caribou described the situation as a rare event, saying that between 2 and 5 inches of rain fell over the general area between Friday and Saturday.

“One burst of heavy rainfall followed by another burst by another burst just happened to go over the same areas there,” Sinko said. “The grounds were pretty soaked up there prior to this, so all the ingredients came together for flash flooding.”

Excessive rainfall over the weekend caused a beaver dam upstream of Route 1 in Cyr Plantation to break loose. The beaver dam washed downstream in the rapid water and plugged a culvert near Vaillancourt Hill Road, clearing out a chunk of Route 1 about 7 feet in diameter.

Travel along 22 miles of Route 1 from Van Buren to Caribou could be disrupted for weeks as officials try to fix the road.

“It’s ugly,” said Brent Bubar, northern region engineer for Maine Department of Transportation. “The existing pipe is damaged, otherwise we maybe could have filled back over it, but there is too much damage to do that.”  

Bubar is trying to find new piping, which he said may be available as early as next week.

“We’re going to extraordinary measures to get something to work,” Bubar said. “We’re fighting higher freight costs, and nobody has this stuff sitting around.”

He is also scouting for contractors to repair the washed out road once the new piping arrives.

The weather service’s Sinko said flooding from the weekend rain was also reported on St. Mary’s Brook Road in Van Buren and on several roads in New Sweden and nearby Westmanland.

“Route 1 saw the most damage obviously with the road gone,” Sinko said.

Bubar suggested alternate routes until the Route 1 problem is resolved — maybe next week if the piping and contractor are both secured.

“If you’re coming from Van Buren, I would say to use Route 1A into Limestone, and if you’re going into Caribou, use [State Route] 89,” Bubar said.  

Bubar said Madawaska residents headed south would save time by first making their way west to Fort Kent and then traveling south on Route 161, known as Caribou Road.

“It’s quite an inconvenience for some, and I’m sorry about that,” Bubar said.