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. mpagel

    What did Trident Seafoods pay in taxes on their profits from this plant in 2010, and how does this project for ~20 years? Then compare to the cost of constructing AND maintaining the runway and associated transportation for ~20 years, and then decide if this is corporate welfare. The argument that we need the food is bogus-we have tons of food in this country.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ChrisSeattle

    thats $640,000 per person. We could have purchased them each an expensive to boat to make the trip. We have enough money in this counrty we just keep wasting it. Oh wait, raise taxes so we can waste more.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      they need to be more scrutenizing in their spending.. and close the loopholes.. the government is paying for business to operate.. its no wonder they have no money for medicare.. or social security.. people who have no other option ... education funds.. disaster funds.. why? Because they are giving freebies to big oil in alaska.. (not to mention loan guarentees.. but we wont know how much that actually cost until later..

      September 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. noseawl

    Folks,

    This is the Alaska equivalent of the Federal government spending hundreds of billions of dollars over the years to link up little tiny villages and towns all across America. Just about every paved road that you have driven on in the middle of nowhere USA was paid for (at various levels) by Federal funds. To say that Alaska should have access to transportation funding is disingenuous. As for the "they should move crowd", I suggest that all roads between the suburbs where people live and the cities where they work be eliminated. Just move to the city if you need a job.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      some of these places are not meant to have roads or to be inhabited.. the people are being brought in to facilitate industries expansion..

      September 28, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      That is kind of what they did with the native american relocation act.. then they gave them living subsidies to help them get aclimated.. You know.. If they close all of the tax loopholes and CAP the government investment percentage to like 30% instead of 300% of these projects... we might actually be able to afford it..

      September 28, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. She.

    its not trident, its the oil companies that want to set a precedent for their invasion of tribal lands.. but the indigenous are essentially poor.. so they need the permenant fund.. its kinda screwed up.. oil set up the permenant fund so they could move in and pillage.. and the worst part, is that they are using this fishery as a front to pillage the government while they are at it..

    Alaska does not need the money from the government..

    September 28, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Paul

    Isnt Alaska the place that has all that OIL money and give residents $$ . If they have all that extra money why are my tax dollars needed. Also, if the packing company really needs an airport why dont they pay for it and raise the price of their product. Come on folks, lets stop always looking to government to solve all the problems.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tekpilot

      Last winter I paid around 700 per month to heat my house here in Fairbanks Alaska. The money from the permanent fund help offsett the cost by a fraction. The truth is most Alaskans are planning on retirement somewhere else. Alaska has a big problem looming over its head; most nearing or at retirement are going to leave because the cost of energy is outrageous. When the energy cost that make a house habitable exceed the mortgage payment it makes one really contemplate how they can survive on a fixed income after retirement. How does this relate to this debate? No development means no change and no change means the cycle turns spiral where there is only decline. Alaska does have Oil money put aside so that when the oil money dries up there is something left to operate with. The pipeline was designed to hold over a million barrels a day and is now operating at 600 thousand and declining all the time because we have parks larger then most states that hardly anybody visits (15 visted ANWR) that are off limits to development. Talk about the Fed up your nose. So you want parks, we want airports because we cant develop anything else!

      September 29, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Redrich

    How do the people mov now? Do they use boats? How dose the fish pros. move his produict? Mov the people use boats

    September 28, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Anthony manzella

    It's funny how people say obama can't do anything about it but bush did. Ok:@

    September 28, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tom

    Sounds like US Foreign Aid to me. Build an airport for people who ride donkeys.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unangan

      ya tom did you not know that alaska is part of the U.S.A. so dumb you people out there

      October 13, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. She.

    http://reason.com/archives/2008/09/03/the-subsidy-state go figure...

    September 28, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. She.

    other states get transportation spending when the local roads are congested and cannot support the growing populations.. this place could be serviced with horse and cart.. and the roads they have go un used.. this is NOT typical urban growth spending.. this is BS.... fleecing..

    September 28, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Roy

    Was this 64 million dollar runway included in the jobs bill? Maybe Alaskan's can still use it for snow mobile races.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Todd

    So this is the state that distributes revenue to citizens thanks to big oil, ripping the rest of us off for an airport to serve a private company ?

    I guess Palin isn't the only idiotic politician in Alaska.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Steve Lyons

    Yo know they make NEW seaplanes form available parts today. . . . .

    They make many of them into fire fighting water bombers.

    Why not convert one to passenger service........?????

    September 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      THey already do that from the Bahamas to Miami everyday....

      But they cant launder money with a nice neat economical solution.

      September 28, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Beefburger

    Ok, how does the seafood get there to be processed? Why can't Trident pay for their employees to arrive by boat? That would be a hulluvalot cheaper that even the $1mil that they are spending alone.

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

    Right on, people. So, we need to stop blaming other countries for our economic problems. The problem lies within our government. This is the sort of stuff that is bringing this country down. Forget blaming Europe, China or India. Blame it on the grossly mismanaged administration of the past 3 presidents.

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

      Love it...

      September 28, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      This is why every single bill should be line item, so this type of pork can not get thru

      September 29, 2011 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Scared

      Past three presidents? Now that is a non-partisan comment if I have ever heard one. Good for you!!!

      September 29, 2011 at 4:39 am | Report abuse |
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