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. Jim

    They need to post an additional map zoomed out to show people where this is. Then they will truely realize why it costs so much, why the runway can't be moved, why the processor is where it is, and where the heck all the seafood they have been eating comes from.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • clr

      I agree Jim. The headline to this article make it sound like there is some shady business going on. But in reality,. there are essential services that have to be supplied to people living in remote conditions – doing work that feeds a heck of a lot of the lower 48. The overwhelming cost... well... the conditions under which this airport will have to be built – and the conditions in which this airport will have to sustain are far more extreme than in a "normal" location.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • jOHN

      GET a larger map so we can see where this is? I spent many years in False Pass, but I can't figure where this proposed airport improvement is intended. It's truely beautiful upthere; but tough weather. as for the money, it's unlimited, isn't it?

      September 28, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • tommyrock

      I don't eat seafood.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      The other neighboring island of Unalaska has an airport. There is also seasonal ferry service between the two islands with a running time of 3 1/2 hours. It seems that improving the connection between Unalaska and Akutan could be done for a lesser cost and reducing the amount of infrastructure that will need to be maintained.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Harshtimes

    Move the village and processing plant to where the runway is being built.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • noseawl

      There is no harbor at the airport location.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lairbear

    Why not use this money to help complete the Lynn Canal Highway along the canal on the east side?

    September 28, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Skyking

    I'm reading all of your comments and it is apparent that 99% of you have no idea what you are talking about. You should all go to Alaska and see what a good runway means to these people. Engage your brain prior to operating your mouth!

    September 28, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • pbj

      well said skyking they have no clue

      September 28, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Slypilot

      Hey Skyking, but isn't it the new American way to just spout out before knowing a damn thing of what they are spouting out about? People really have ZERO understanding of the harsh realities of Alaskan living. Untold numbers of villages live only because of air transport. There are no other ways to provide food, supplies, and people to these areas. And before you other brilliant people say "then they should move," ask that of folks in New Orleans for which we are spending BILLIONS of dollars for a city that will flood again in the future!! I completely agree with you, Skyking... well said!

      September 28, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • pat carr

      agreed. most posters here are just ignorant keyboard commandos spouting out worthless opinions based on nothing.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    See all those lines close together on the map of Akutan island? That means the land is steep and rugged, and unsuitable for a runway. See the widely-spaced lines on the map near the proposed airport? That means the land is flat, ideal for a runway. Akutan has a natural harbor. The site for the runway does not, which is why they need a hovercraft to come ashore. That's also why they can't move the fishing plant near the runway – no place for fishing boats to moor and unload the catch.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Briney

      Uhmmm... how bout move the "fishing plant" to Dutch Harbor, 60 miles away. They got a real airport already.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tekpilot

    It seems that you forget the enormous size of Alaska compared to any other state. If We as Alaskans moved to have two states, North and South Alaska, Texas would be the third largest state. The need for Airports is greater then roads because it would take to long even if there was a road. Airports that can support Jet aircraft by the way are very expensive to fly in and out of. It is less expensive to fly from Anchorage to Seattle then from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      YOur airport is the ocean.. you already have a solution thats working.. You dont need a new airport you need new seaplanes.. this is the problem with this stuff.. people dreaming up needs that are not practical for their situations.. It is a remote island that only performs seafood packing.. Youo know what they do in the carribean.. they get sea planes.. there are island in the carribean that are only accessible by seaplane as well its not an inconvienance.. its a practicality..

      September 28, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Thinks2010

    So it costs the U.S. taxpayer $700,000 a year to subsidize the seaplanes. Considering that spending $64 million is equivalent to subsidizing seaplanes for 91.43 years, I think we should stick to the subsidies. I'm pretty sure that better solutions to Akutan's transportation needs than spending $64 million building an airport and $11 million to get them to it will present themselves within the next 91 years. .

    September 28, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      a new sea plane is only 100k... prolly cheaper to buy a couple new ones and not try to destory the local environment with an airport runway..

      September 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason, Chicago IL

      I have a much better idea: why don't we NOT spend public money to serve 100-1000 people on a remote island in Alaska?

      How about the company that's based there relocates to a more accessible location, or foots the entire bill themselves?

      September 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinks2010

      She and Jason–Your comments are proof that better ideas would be found within 91 years and for less than $77 million.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. kronos

    That's the reason why the US government is in financial trouble. It still believes that we have infinite supply of US dollars. The money that will soon be almost worthless.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • shawn

      and my kronos has no idea where his dinner comes from...but he doesn't care...

      September 28, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. She.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grumman_Albatross

    September 28, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rose

    Indeed, a good runway means a lot to the 100 people and seasonal 1000 people (well, more to the owners of the cannery). Does that mean it means $77 million to other Alaskans and all tax payers? If modern amenities, access, and what not are really so important that a runway needs to be build at any cost maybe the onus of paying for it should be on those it directly affects. And as for "where they get their seafood" there are many canneries in Alaska that are not requesting a special multi-million dollar airport facility be provided for them, I tried to find the exact number or canneries but we will leave it at "a lot". ps- I am also an Alaskan, dont assume everyone who doesnt agree with this waste of money is from outside.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Briney

      Plus, Dutch Harbor is 60 miles away. Problem solved.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thorn

      Rose have you considered that maybe those living in a flood plain, hurricane zone, tornado zone, or disaster area be required to foot the bill for their costs as well? Nobody thinks about where they live they are to busy picking on the next town because they need something as well.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Justice786

    God forbid that Palin and her Tea par6ers or tea party nuts waste any money! If the rest of America complain about their pork barrel projects, then we are unpatriotic. Wow! Have you ever seen so many people defending a boondoggle project like this?

    September 28, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ron

    Gentlemen nd gentlewemen our Hearts are not in evidence but the egoic domain of politics and bureaucracy are most obvious. rather feed the hungry and take resposibility foreast among us. GOD .

    September 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Briney

    For those people talking about geography: Dutch Harbor/Unalaska is less than 60 miles away. THEY HAVE A REAL AIRPORT, as well as room for processing facilities. Dutch Harbor is the town of "Deadliest Catch" fame. Looks to me like this whole project is going to feed money into one poorly located company, Trident Seafoods, with a powerful lawmaker backing them. It would cost WAY LESS to move the processing plant than to construct this runway and operate a shuttle service. The difference? It only costs Trident $1M to build the runway, but it costs taxpayers $73M. Otherwise, the burden is solely on the company. [Sarcasm ON] Way to go Washington for supporting corporations above all else, as usual.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      move the plant or roll with the sea plane

      September 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. She.

    Nd yet they fund them anyway... " more prominent "bridges to nowhere".[2] As a result, Congress removed the federal earmark for the bridge in 2005.[3] Funding for the "Bridge to Nowhere" has continued as of Mar 2nd, 2011 in the passing of H.R. 662: Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011[4][5][6] by the House of Representatives."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravina_Island_Bridge#Road_to_Nowhere

    September 28, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Amused

    DO NOT BY ALARMED BY THIS!

    It is OK!

    Afterall, the government employees who planned and approved this project were well compensated for their time...

    And....

    They will still be able to retire 10 – 20 younger than the rest of us.

    And...

    In the age of Obama, that is ALL that really matters!

    September 28, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • mpagel

      Huh? The democrats are accused of corporate cronyism??? More like the Age of Bush. See the off-shore gulf oil industry for example.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big D

      Wow. That comment advanced my thinking and this discussion tremendously. Try and say something relevant next time instead of nonsensically blaming 'Obama' bureaucrats. Bureaucrats operate under specific criteria that, while we may not always grasp, means that if the project fits narrow criteria set by the dept then they sign off. The people did their jobs. Politicians should decide whether it's worth the price. As it seems to benefit only this seafood company I would say, no, it is not worth the price. Buy a new sea plane.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • justin

      What does Obama have to do with any of that? Did he plan the airstrip? Did he set retirement age for federal employees? Sounds like your mad and jealous and looking for a scapegoat. Your probably just some idiot who repeats whatever fat azz Rush tells you. Go troll FOX.com! That's where all the other pigs are.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Riiiiight... it's only during the Obama admin that gov't waste has been an issue. You know, Obama being such a friend to business interests and all. Thank god there was never any gov't waste like this under Bush, Bush lite, Ronny, Ford, Nixon etc... All such fiscal hound dogs that they were.

      I can only assume you slept during your social studies classes in high school.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ct

      No way turdfergason. you forget the 500 dollar hammer

      September 28, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Argle Bargle

      Hey, Amused...did your parents have any children that lived?

      September 28, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • pat carr

      Idiot. this has nothing to do with Obama. Get some help

      September 28, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don't think so

      Odd blaming Obama for this project considering it needs Alaska's current governor to approve the funding for it. Last I checked Alaska's governor was a republican.

      September 28, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
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