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. kite005

    Couldn't the seafood plant operate elsewhere?

    September 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheHalfBakedLunatic

      Good point ... I would be willing to bet that relocating the plant would be less than $10 million.

      September 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fish

      Have to process the fish where they are offloaded or they spoil. If you look at the map there isn't a safe harbor on the other island and the fish can't be moved before they are caught as fish don't listen to people.

      September 28, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MadHungarian

    I spent a week and a half in Alaska and it led me to question whether people should be living up there at all, except for essential workers, and native peoples living a traditional subsistence based lifestyle who are willing to forego most modern conveniences and transportation. Everything needed to support a modern lifestyle - everything you eat, wear, build with and drive - must be imported from the Lower 48 at prodigious cost and expenditure of energy. It's not sustainable. This runway is but one example of that.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      I thought that was the point of Alaska.. and its inherent Pristine beauty..

      September 28, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • ConR

      congratulations, you spent a whole week and a half in Alaska, that obviously gives you a significant ability to know what is good or not to the state. perhaps its not the alaskan's that shouldn't be there at all, but the people like you that know all there is to know about anything and everything

      September 28, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Melina319

      ConR – I dont see where MadHungarian said they were an expert and knew everything. Why are you more interested in attacking commenters than discussing the topic? My opinion on the topic is that people who choose to live in remote and/or unsafe locations like this should be prepared to live w/o the conveniences found in largely populated areas. They're welcome to have whatever they want as long as they can pay for it. I dont see how spending nearly $1million/resident is reasonable.

      September 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Mad- Everything you need to live is shipped all the way from China.
      Go figure.

      September 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • satbobva

      For what it's worth, I lived in Anchorage and Kotzebue Alaska for 12 years. The people there live a very self sufficient lifestyle and if push came to shove would not need lower 48 subsidies.

      September 28, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinks2010

      Satbobva– Well, push has come to shove so I guess so I guess it's time for those self-sufficient Alaskans to do this one on their own.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Alice

    no one would have a c;lue what is happening I DO live in Akutan and that airport is needed get your facts straight folks and Sarah left Alaska hgh adn dry so why should she help

    September 28, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Were you Born there?

      September 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheHalfBakedLunatic

      Just because an airport is "needed" doesn't mean the taxpayers have to spend $64 million.

      September 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick

      Alice,
      Does Alaska use some sort of spin off the English Language, that doesn't require punctuation, or are you just ignorant? Perhaps the money being earmarked for runways, ferries, hovercrafts, and helicopters should be getting diverted towards education. If my writing skills were on par w/ yours, I'd probably be hiding out in Alaska as well.

      September 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • craig

      Since you seem to know, why didn't you share the "Facts?" If the article is in error, show us where. Otherwise, we'll assume you learned from Sarah, and just toss out claims without any substantiation. Why, exactly, is this a good deal beyond somebody lining their pockets? How, exactly, does this pencil out? If this is that vital to the locals, explain why they don't want to pay for it. In short, either show us the Facts you claim to have, or...go away.

      September 28, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dale

      Patrick:
      Did you mean "spin off of"? What state do you live in, one that skips words? Also, since you are correcting grammar and English skills, you might as well remove that comma between hovercrafts and helicopters, and the capital "L" on language. Regarding the runway, I don't care either way because I live in Canada. I just like correcting ingorant jerks, especially when they are using their ignorant jerk skills to correct others.
      🙂 Cheers

      September 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. John R

    I don't know. I'm from the Pac. Northwest. While it sounds logical to move the fish processing plant, look at the map attached to the article. The fishing village is right where it should be...in the protected harbour with hills (look at the contours of the map). The airstrip is right where it should be...on flat land but in an area where the wind never dies down.

    I'm not really against review of this project...nearly 1/10th of a billion for a runway sounds ridiculous. But I'm also a little saddened at the loss of intelligence in the American population. Just 3 or 4 decades ago, everything pointed out above would have been obvious. People were just a little more aware of how nature works.

    As "Alaskan Too" points out, sometimes projects like these are needed, if for no other reason than for a basic infrastructure for emergencies and stop-over points, and not just the local residents. Goodness knows, if we had to price out the cost of building a typical city block...leveling, paving, street lights, natural gas, electric lines, phone lines, cable lines, traffic lights, etc, it would probably cost tens of million per city block. Again, review the cost and the project, but I don't think it's as far out of whack as many reflexive commenters here do, because you have everything you need supplied already.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Karen

      Thank you John R you atleast sound like you know what you're talking about.

      September 28, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alaskan as well

      Thanks for the well thought out comments, you described in less words what I've been trying to tell people for years.

      As for the bridge to nowhere is suffered a fate the same as this project because of a lack of knowledge of the area, costs on maintaining a ferry to cross a few hundred feet of water and the fact that ocean going ships were using daily so the bridge had to go over them.

      September 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Michael Schmitt

    It would be cheaper to give each resident a million dollars. Seriously, this is why we owe $14 Trillion dollars. End the Fed money machine that allows the government to do ths. Elect Ron Paul for President and end this welfare-warfare state. Please if you love this country, vote for Ron Paul.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • mb2010a

      Ummm...No.

      September 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. IHopper

    Palin country. All rugged and independent and s**t. Right, except when they want FED. GOV'T $$$$$$$

    September 28, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Martin

    When was this project approved? Given the timeline in getting these things off the ground, what's the betting that the Palin administration approved this?

    She keeps touting her cancellation of the "Bridge to Nowhere" project as an example of her fiscal conservatism, I wonder how it would be received if the Palin faithful find out she approved this project, or at the very least had the authority to cancel it and didn't?

    September 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Spendlove

    Sarah Palin is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. valwayne

    Total Insanity! There is no reason to wonder why our nation is so far in debt and still piling on fast with total insanity like this going on? I suppose we'd at least have a runway to show for it, so its not as bad as the $535 million completely wasted on Solyndra, but it still insane!

    September 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. CmonNow11

    Why dont you report on who proposed this project, who has supported it, how it got off the ground – i.e. reporting that we can actually use for something.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Wayne

    Think Oil and you will find the answers.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      answers for our ultimate demise..

      September 28, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Christian

    Maybe I am missing something...how have the 900 workers been getting there before this? And as for the 6 mile trip, it probably would have been less expensive to build a new plant on Akun Island and have the 100 workers simply "shuttle" from the Akutan Island tip that is closer than 6 miles.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      They need to set up their workers to live there on teh island and bring in supplies for them rather than shuttle the employees..

      September 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zenia Borenin

      Are you friggin serious!!!

      September 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Red

    Well heck, EVERY DAMN 100-person town in American should have its own $77 million dollar runway. Have we lost our senses?

    September 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John

    What I don't understand it cost $64 million dollars to build a runway? Wouldn't it be cheaper to have a small runway and have bush pilots fly them in and out?

    September 28, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      It would.. and upgrading their amphibious plane only runs about 100k.. but thats not enough money to launder apropriately..

      September 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zenia Borenin

      You have to understand–we are geographically challenged. Thats what makes it expensive. Its expensive to get anything out here & yes its HOME~!~next time you have crab,shrimp,fish think about where its coming from–from my VILLAGE–ITS BEAUTIFUL & YES ITS HOME!!!! Unlike the contiguous 48 states-we have to fly

      September 28, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Laura

    I dont think it wise to build a runway for such few numbers of people in an area. It would just throw good
    money after bad. Alaska is a beautiful state as Ive seen on tv. My home state of Montana also has a lot
    of wide open spaces. I hope we as well a Alaska can keep it that way. Too many people spoil the land
    and resources. We have a saying in Montana"Forty Below Keeps The Riff Raff Out".

    September 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Werd!

      September 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alaskan as well

      You are building the runway so you can eat your seafood, not so that 100 people can move around.

      September 28, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
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