A $64 million runway for no one in Alaska?
The route a hovercraft would take between the village of Akutan and the runway on Akun Island.
September 28th, 2011
12:56 PM ET

A $64 million runway for no one in Alaska?

Remember Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere," a $400 million span that was supposed to connect Ketchikan to its airport on sparsely inhabited Gravina Island? The project gained infamy in 2005 as a waste of taxpayer dollars and the funds earmarked for it were withheld. The 8,000 residents of Ketchikan continue to be connected to their airport by ferry.

Fast forward six years and another remote Alaskan airport project is raising questions about how the government spends money.

The price this time is $77 million and the place is Akutan, a remote island village in the Aleutian chain, according to a report from the Alaska Dispatch.

By next winter Akutan is scheduled to have a 4,500-foot-long runway, built at a cost of $64 million ($59 million in federal and $5 million state funds), the Dispatch reports. The problem is, the runway is on Akun Island, 6 miles from the village across the treacherous waters of the Bering Sea. Plying those waters can be tricky with seas over 6 feet and winds above 30 mph.

Original plans called for using a hovercraft - at a cost of $11 million - to ferry passengers from Akutan to Akun. But, the Dispatch points out, the same model hovercraft planned for the route has proven unreliable under similar conditions elsewhere in Alaska. And when it did run, operating losses were in the millions.

Now, transportation officials are considering using a helicopter to ferry passengers from Akutan, according to the Dispatch report. Cost of that is still being determined.

Should officials get it all figured out and funded, who'll benefit? Akutan has a year-round population of 100, but that spikes to about 1,000 in the summer when Trident Seafoods processing plant, the largest seafood processing plant in North America, is in operation, the Dispatch reports. Trident is contributing $1 million to the project, the Dispatch says.

And why is this necessary? Air service to Akutan is now provided by World War II-era amphibious aircraft operated by Peninsula Airways. Those are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, Peninsula Vice President Brian Carricaburu told the Dispatch.

Carricaburu also says the runway could cut the government's costs in one way. Peninsula Airways routes to Akutan are now subsidized by about $700,000 annually under the federal Essential Air Service program. Using bigger, more efficient aircraft could bring that cost down, he told the Dispatch.

But to reach that point, it looks like a lot of figurative bridges have to be crossed.

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Filed under: Air travel • Alaska • Travel
soundoff (937 Responses)
  1. the Prophet

    Another great Obama idea. How to create jobs. He has no clue.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Hey Prophet, you are an idiot. Earmarks, which this is, have nothing to do with the Executive Branch. This was done by 1) Sen. Murkowski; 2) Sen. Begich; or 3) Rep. Young. My money is on Young. So please read a civics book before making idiotic comments. You only make yourself look even dumber, if that is possible.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Prophet, any request like this has to be submitted by their Congressional delegation, which consists of 1 Republican( Young), 1 Democrat (Begich), and 1 Independent (Murkowski). Sounds like Obama has nothing to do with this, and it provides access to jobs for 1000 people in a state that has chronically high unemployment. Alaska depends more on federal dollars than any other state in the country ( just ask the Quitter from Wasilla, she hired a lobbyist when she was Mayor to get an ice hockey arena put it, but this is somewhat different.). I suppose you would have no problem with massive government subsidies to drill for oil in Antarctica, would you?

      September 28, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fred Evil

      Pssst, your ODS is showing!!
      If Trident benefits the most, let Trident pay for it. The Free Market should be able to take care of its own, right?

      September 28, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • sickofitall

      Obama has nothing to do with this? But wait, every spending issue from the year 2000 to 2008 was Bush's fault?? Oh that's right we only expect Republicans to take the blame for the stupid things congress does. So I take it those who believe Obama has nothing to do with this kind of crap have never heard of a thing called a VETO???

      September 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Katie

      Rob, dumber is not a word. Maybe you need to reference a dictionary. You mean 'more dumb'. As in, who is more dumb, you or prophet?

      September 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "sickofitall – Obama has nothing to do with this? But wait, every spending issue from the year 2000 to 2008 was Bush's fault?? Oh that's right we only expect Republicans to take the blame for the stupid things congress does. "

      you know its funny you say this because all i keep hearing from the repubs is that nothing was ever Bush's fault, it was the Dems in congress.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • mb2010a

      Each and every Alaskan gets a check every year from their Alaska Permanent Fund? (Not convicted of a crime). Take that money and pay for this boondoggle if they have to have it. Why should US taxpayers be stuck with this bill? The estimated value of the fund for 2011 is $28 billion and this years check was for $1,174.00 per resident.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • peri

      hahaha you tell them Rob..... there is some dumb ppl out there that don't have a clue

      September 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • chainyanker

      With ignorant statements like this one by prophet the collective conservative ignorance I've come to realize exists we end up in the mess we're in and in the mean time China eats our lunch.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sashatree

      @ Prophet and Sickofitall - your lack of even BASIC knowledge on how our government operates is pathetic. With the likes of you two, it's no wonder why this country is so polarized. Your stupidity is breathtaking. The office of the President does not have veto power over every issue.....and frankly, doesn't have a whole lot of power to do anything! That's left to the folks in the House and Senate. Go back to school and study some civics before spewing your idiotic drivel here....

      September 28, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason, Chicago IL

      Oh god, really? You REALLY think this is an Obama idea? I'd ask you just how stupid you are but I think you already answered that question.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Prophet, don't you know that everything wrong is the fault of George W. Bush, and will be for a least another 1,000 years. And Obama is not, nor will he ever be, responsible for anything negative. That's just the way the world is, and you need to accept that.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
    • swan

      It is pretty clear that most American have forgotten their elementary school government class. With the major exceptions of proposing a Budget and Declaring Wars, the President really has very limited short term levers on controlling spending. Approving a Budget and Appropriating funds are all powers of our fundamentally broken congress.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Duder

      @Katie my dictionary shows dumber as a word, so there's that.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. BobInIrvine

    Prophet, are you dumb or just a partisan hack?

    September 28, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ricky Bobby

      Can't he be both? Shake and bake!

      September 28, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Charlie

    omg, obama probably just learned of this as we did. You just don't get life do you. I say we let the alaskans rot without a freakin runway

    September 28, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • aneshia

      and where the ell are you?!?!?! its a frikken nesesity...and that means its needed ok, maybe you don't get life because your saying you want us to rot? unhuman much. how about this you take away ower ramp n we take away your cars, motercycals, bikes, trucks n sh!t ok oh and trains. WHY DONT YOU Try living down here and cram into your tiny scull that its hard to do so got it! another thing,..."omg" open your damn eyes

      December 31, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. AC

    Must be Obama's fault? He's black and he's the President, really dude?

    September 28, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • AceRyder

      Where was Obama's skin color brought up?

      September 28, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • EWGuy

      Of course Obama had nothing to do with this, and "the Prophet" was a clown for even bringing it up...

      ...but please, no one ever cut Bush any slack either. He got blamed for everything. I mean everything. Still does, in fact. It's amazing.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • chainyanker

      Bush is blamed for a lot of things because he was responsible for much of the fiscal problems this country now faces. Remember that when Clinton left office he left a surplus in the budget...Bush squandered it all with the FEAR FACTOR about Iraqi WMDs a major reason...cost: at least $1 trillion maybe up to $3 trillion, then there was 'small' stuff like the bridge to nowhere'.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Kris in AL

    The INTEREST on $60-70 MILLION would pay for BRAND NEW AMPHIBIOUS planes and the cost to operate them!!!!

    Someone with half a brain figure that out!!!

    September 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • JetPilot

      Can't land a sea plane in 6 foot seas...

      September 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Nino Brown

    I like how everyone is forever blaming Obama. The President doesn't have that much power folks.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. FrankMhere

    I blame Global Warming

    September 28, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • aneshia

      May I ask why?

      December 31, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. The Citizen

    'All politics is local.'

    While it's easy for the politically clueless to blame every governmental failure on the president, the US government does not work that way. As the most recent budget crisis has shown us, Congress has the power of the purse. They decide what money gets spent where. If your angry about this governmental waste of taxpayer dollars, blame those that deserve it.

    Rep. Young, Donald [R-AK]
    Sen. Murkowski, Lisa [R-AK]
    Sen. Begich, Mark [D-AK]

    Any outrage at this waste needs to focus on those 3 right there.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Shyster

    It won't be the only pork airport. The Mid America airport in Belleville, IL was built in 1992 at a cost of $100 million. It remains open to this day, despite not having any scheduled flights.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. AmericaIsBasedOnCheating

    Just relocate the 10 people who live in that god forsaken place at a cost of $15000. Done. Cut the B.S.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sue Zahnd

      AK Native villagers have lived in those areas for thousands of years; their "souls" are connected to the land. What you suggest is dismissive of their experience. And, yes...they do connect with the rest of the world (the internet is a blessing to Alaskans, both us city folks and the villages!). They have need for access to medical treatment, universities, family in other parts of Alaska, and supplies not readily available in their village. Also, someone said that the cost of living is not high...In those villages gas is well over 6$ a gallon; milk can be 9$ a gallon. Even in Juneau our gas was over 4.00 a gallon long before it was in the South. And, oh yes..the PFD...someone calculated that it might cover what we pay extra for gas a year (over the lower 48)...and it comes from OIL co profits.; not the government!

      September 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Christian

    Maybe some places just aren't meant to be inhabited...

    September 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. B

    So.. is the whole point of this 100 person town merely to operate a single fish processing factory? And if so, would the $64M be better off spent moving it someplace that already is somewhat established? So, they deliver fish, process them, and then freeze and ship it to the mainland. As opposed to freeze and ship it to the mainland and then process it? I don't understand why there needs to be a single factory in the middle of nowhere in the first place.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. David

    I don't understand, why its such a huge Federal project, when the state has gigantic sources of income and its citizens receive even bigger tax breaks for the oil reserves being used.....Let them foot 50% of the bill, atleast.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. MOJarry

    64 million? 11 million? $700,000 ? To serve 100 people and 1000 from a private company? Who the h–l is in charge? Is it hard for anyone to realize we're being screwed by Gov't and their "business" partners?

    September 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. She.

    "And why is this necessary? Air service to Akutan is now provided by World War II-era amphibious aircraft operated by Peninsula Airways. Those are becoming increasing difficult to maintain, Peninsula Vice President Brian Carricaburu told the Dispatch."

    How about they just replace the aging amphibious aircraft that is already doing the job?

    September 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
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