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. Copper's Donut Shoppe

    Just use 15-30 million ~ buy out the sea food company ~ and then shut it down.
    Use another 10 million to start trust funds for all the workers.
    Hire me to manage them at 1.5 mil a year with insider trading at Goldman Sachs.
    .. . Problem solved.
    I saved the taxpayers 25 million.

    September 28, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brilliant!

      I love it!! Great plan. Implement this immediately!

      September 28, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Wow,,, that's too funny!!!!!!
      but the sad part is it's so true!!!

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

    77 million divided by 100 is 770,000 per person. Why not move everyone to the other island and build them a really nice house. If they spent 1 million per house we would be saving money.
    I wonder if they can see Russia from their front door like Palin can??

    September 28, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Church

    Who profited from this fiasco?
    Let's see... Ted Stevens, or Sarah "The Mooch" Palin?

    September 28, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Copper's Donut Shoppe

    Fast track Palin for living Goddess

    September 28, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. alaskan resident that feeds you

    The reason for an airport like this is so you can all eat the fish you have been eating for years. If you shutdown the plant as one person suggested you'll deny yourselves all the fish and fish products Alaska has been sending you for decades.

    Another reason for this project is it provides a much needed emergency runway during flyovers from Seattle, Anchorage, and all points Asia.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Copper's Donut Shoppe

      fish cause cancer
      asians have diseases
      stop this now

      September 28, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Keith

    And Alaska does what with all their oil money? Just like Texas. Complaining about the federal government, but the first ones with their hands out.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • alaskan resident that feeds you

      They became a state years after yours did, years after yours collected handouts for infastructure and built up the state. Now they need some money to assist them build the runway they need so they can feed you. Wow sounds like someone doesn't know where their bread is buttered.

      September 28, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jma58

    If people make the choice to live in such a remote location they should pay for their own runways and bridges.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas Howard

      Yes, because people have a choice as to where they're born.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Buzz Aldrin

    Move the plant, and move the people... 77 mil for 100 people, or 1000, is ridiculous

    September 28, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • bill mahr the idiot

      Move them to the moon. Do you think the fish would follow?

      September 28, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Justin Observation

    The regular population of 100 have probably been living there for generations without the need for an airport or hovercraft. My guess is the corporation wants the government to make their operation easier to run and to increase their profits. And since the government works for corporations, no cost is too high.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mike

    Ever heard of the John Murtha airport in Johnstown PA? Just as big of a waste of money!

    September 28, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tekpilot

    Actually, If you understood the distance from Attu to Akutan you would get a glimpse of why it is a good idea. It is a very strategic point and having a runway there could easily save a 400 million dollar fighter jet from going in the drink. There are airports all over Alaska in areas where very few people live. In and about the Yukon/Charley military reserve area. This is home to some of the largest training operations that hosts thousands of aircraft from all over the world to train in uncluttered air space. So why you may see this as a civilian airport that will get little real use, if it saves one endangered fighter jet it pays for itself.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • eldono

      Training for what? It's a complete waste.

      September 28, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kelcey

      Cold War mentality still. Based on that I guess we would need to have emergency runways every couple of hundred miles then and certainly on every island we own.

      No. And how long will this "island" be an island versus under water?

      September 28, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TheMovieFan

    Looks like some red state waste that can be cut to help balance the budget.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jon

    If Trident wants an airstrip, they should build it themselves. I think it's time for someone to look into where else Trident has been spreading money around.

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

    This wasn't Sarah's idea?

    September 28, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. nytw

    I'm sure when Sarah Palin denounces this boondoggle it will come to an end.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
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