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. DriftSS

    hundreds of overused bridges and roads falling in disarray all over the U.S. Fixing those should be a bigger priority than on a pet peeve project to nowhere by no one!! Same asphalt and concrete...just a better location. And remember the real estate slogan: Location. Location. Location!!

    September 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • vee

      Many of these people are Alaskan natives who still value the traditional way of living, also if you have ever been out that way you'd know that they don't have the luxury of putting an airport where they please, Akun Island is the only level land they can build that strip, I know because I work for the company that provides medical care to that community, getting a safer mode of transportation is a must for them. Can you imagine that sometimes you don't get supplies for months on end, that's these people living that reality every winter. Quit being so ignorant.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      THe company needs the people to be there, otherwise the people wouldnt be there.. if the people werent there, there would be no need for those services..

      September 28, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Spuds

    I am confused as usual – why can't they put the airport near the village? and not on the island – I read this story over but I don't see anything about that. where is the current runway that uses those old planes to shuttle people. And gosh how overly generous of Trident Seafood – a whopping $1 million. Wonder how much they make off of those couple of months.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • KJ

      The steep terrain makes a runway impossible close to the village. The old planes are sea planes and land on water.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Get new Sea Planes?

      September 28, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim P

      I'll bet a couple of bull dozers and a few graders could MAKE a flat spot to build that runway on.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. KJ

    This makes no sense. Why not just use a helicopter to ferry people to Unalaska, like the sea planes do? The sea planes are not much faster than helicopters anyway. Might take an extra 30 minutes, but save millions in construction and upkeep.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. newvell

    If you ask me sounds like a new run way for the new world air commission ??? why there ??? why so much??? more is going on than just government waste. NWO??? things are never what they look to be ..

    September 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. rs

    Because if they explained why they put it where it is, it might make sense and then what would be the point of the story?

    September 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mick

    Build new, or give them new amphibious aircraft for the journey. Done. solved. move on to more important matters that could help more than 100 people.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Exactly. . .

      September 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Alaskan

    So how many of you geniuses have actually been in these areas and seen what the needs of the area are? There are very few sevices out in these areas and yet they are the hubs for commercial fishing, scientific research, search and rescues, etc. If the guys on the deadliest catch get hurt, they could very well be transported to Akutan for a flight to Anchorage an 800 mile flight. Thats like getting hurt in Seattle and being mdevac'd to Las Vegas or Buffalo NY to Memphis TN. Just be glad all the infrastructure in your area was done years and years ago. And if you don't like us asking for money, maybe we should stop sending you all our oil and we could afford it ourselves.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leafonthewind

      The percentage of federal to state funds being allocated for this project is disproportional to the relative benefit received. The state of Alaska should foot a much higher percentage of the cost of such projects.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Common Sense

      Maybe you didn't realize it but Alaska was purchased by the United States from Russia. All assets of the State of Alaska belong to the people of the United States. So it is not the people of Alaska's reqources, but the people of the United States that purchased it. Yopu are some of the few people who actually get paid for resources removed from your state.

      The Alaska Purchase was the acquisition of the Alaska territory by the United States from Russia in 1867 by a treaty ratified by the Senate. The purchase, made at the initiative of United States Secretary of State William H. Seward, gained 586,412 square miles (1,518,800 km2) of new United States territory. Originally organized as the Department of Alaska, the area was successively the District of Alaska and the Alaska Territory before becoming the modern state of Alaska upon being admitted to the Union as a state in 1959.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      So how long have the geniuses that want this thing live there without it, and survived just fine?

      September 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Olaf Big

    Maybe they should buy a couple of modern flying boats from Russia (Be-200). That would sove the problem at much lower cost.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dennis

    This in the only state where residents get a huge oil royalty check every year just for living in the State.

    Let Alaskans pay for their own boondoggles or send that oil money directly to the federal government.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Leafonthewind

    This raises several questions:

    1. Why does it cost $64 million to build a runway?
    2. Why build it on the island? Why not on the mainland?
    3. Why is such a small community receiving funding ($700K per year!) via the federal Essential Air Service program?
    4. Why does the federal government need to assume such a high percentage of the cost compared to the state of Alaska?
    5. Why doesn't Trident Seafoods build their own danged runway?

    Our hard-earned tax dollars at work. Thank you, congressional Republicans and Democrats, for taking such good care of us American people.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • First *s* in Tsawwassen is Silent

      Oh geez....

      1. Why does it cost $64 million to build a runway?

      It costs $64 to build THIS runway. Materials AND equipment AND labor have to be shipped in. It's an island and a VERY remote one at that. Learn your geography and maybe some economics.

      2. Why build it on the island? Why not on the mainland?

      Again, learn your geography. This location is not near the any part of the Alaskan mainland. There is no mainland here. Akutan is on an island as is the proposed airport location and these islands are predominantly mountainous terrain. Can't afford to be picky – leveling out the land or reclaiming land in the ocean will be a lot more expensive.

      3. Why is such a small community receiving funding ($700K per year!) via the federal Essential Air Service program?

      Because they have to be provided access to goods and services and the waters are treacherous. They were also here before you AND your ancestors. This is their way of life. If you don't like it move to another country.

      4. Why does the federal government need to assume such a high percentage of the cost compared to the state of Alaska?

      Access is a federal mandate.

      5. Why doesn't Trident Seafoods build their own danged runway?

      Trident supports a seasonal population and does not *own* the town, nor is it responsible for the well-being of the local residents.

      The real questions have already been asked by others, i.e., She.

      September 28, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. hexman13

    Could it be that if things were done according to common sense, certain people wouldn't get their millions of dollars?
    Just wondering.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jeannie 807

    Maybe you can see Russia from the terminal building-

    September 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Alaska Steve

    Yeah! What do these people think they are doing bringing infrastructure to Alaska! For that matter, I want to know who the yahoo was that came up with the idea of "Interstate Highways" or "Continental Telephone Lines"! It's almost like they are trying to improve things or something! Seriously, how many tax dollars were wasted on creating the National Power Grid? Why on Earth did anybody spend tax dollars on anything other than wars or bailing out billionaires? This is outragious!

    Seriously folks... These complaints border on outright racism. Yeah, we are bringing infrastructure to the most underserved communities in the entire country. Deal with it!

    September 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      That racism comment blew your point out of the water. Save it bud. This is unnecessary spending, the kind republicans have been hollering about, but do nothing to stop. It's a Palinesque expenditure.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. alan smithee

    at 12K federal funding per person, Alaska is by far the biggest gov't handout recipient. It's the red state paradox.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Proud Republican with no taxes to pay

    because if the Ruskie's ever do invade, well, this will be the airport the Military will use to defend us!
    Also, what if Ben Laudin's only sleeping, he could come across the boarder and take out Nome. Again we can use this runway to assist in our evacuation.
    Just pay the bill and stop whining!!

    September 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Who is Ben Laudin?

      September 28, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Proud Republican with no taxes to pay

      Ben Dover's son

      September 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Proud Republican with no taxes to pay

      Gee, do ya really think he'll mind that I spelt his name wrong?

      September 28, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
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