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. Darrell Terry

    There are airplanes that can replace the Grumman (G-21A) Goose) that is being used now. They are being used now in Southeast Alaska. The Turbine Otter and the Turbine Twin Otter are available in Amphibious configuration and have replaced the Grumman Goose. These airplanes are used in Juneau and Ketchikan.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • jorge washinsen

      There are many news agencies that could replace CNN also.Everything gets outdated from time to time.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  2. JohnCBarclow

    The Tea Party folks with Occupy Wall Street have it right. We need to get corporate influence out of our government.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Eric W

      Really? The Tea Party people with OccupyWall Street? There wouldn't be a tea party member within a mile of that place. They stand for nothing more than wall street corruption and consumer deception.

      September 29, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      You do know that Occupy Wallstreet has nothing to do with the Tea Party right?

      September 29, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Grumpy

      I doubt very much that many Tea Party members are not completely comfortable with Republican government officials and Wall Street being bedfellows. When corporations are considered as "people", when the rich receive special favors because they are rich, when children and the elderly are disregarded because of political ideology, rest assured our nation is in deep doo.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  3. JOE

    Ask Sarah Palin, she seems to have all the answers.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  4. f

    Why can't they just buy a used modern-era amphibious aircraft for say, a few $million ? The aircraft industry is swamped with used and repossesed aircraft from years of poor aircraft sales and dying airlines. Also, many aircraft are leased. Once they come off lease they sit on an airstrip in the desert in New Mexico.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  5. texas806

    The company needs to foot the bill hands down!

    September 29, 2011 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  6. Han Sen

    I'm glad that CNN reports on the potential abuses of earmarks for infrastructure projects. However, I feel that it distracts the administration and the national conversation away from all the 95-99% of the infrastructure projects that have been useful. This is actually detrimental since the US economy can really gain quite a few jobs and the benefits from many public works projects. Perhaps a few bridges need to collapse in Minnesota or Ohio before people realize this?

    September 29, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  7. MediciSpikes

    I'd be less costly to just move the people from Akutan to Akun!

    September 29, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  8. 2BSquare

    Why not just sell discounted ATR aircraft to Peninsula Airways and save 70M and keep a number of people employed.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. PooDIPIDI

    I always thought it would be really cool to build a ladder to the moon. Do you guys think I'll get funding from our Government to do this? I could make a deal with Sarah Palin so she could see Russia from way up there.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Ray Leonard

      If you can get a seafood company that is a big political contributor to support you then yes the US govt will finance it.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  10. HenkV

    "A 64 million runway for no one" clearly is a bad headline. There is ONE person who benefits from it, and that is the one senator or congressman who hopes to get re-elected because of getting this approved. And for him/her to get this approved he/she had to vote yes on a similar boondoggle for the other (435+100-1) guys in DC who also needed a boondoggle in their state or district to get re-elected. That is a total of 535 * $64,000,000 = $34,240,000,000. And you can count on this happening more than once a year. When will our representatives do anything that is good for the country instead of only good for their re-election?

    September 29, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  11. Tank2

    Providing "essential air services" to 100 people is absurd. Just like the late Sam Kinison said to the starving of people in Ethiopia – "you know what this is? It's sand. Know what it will be in 100 years. Still f'n sand. Go where the food is people."

    The man was a genius.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
  12. OregonMan

    This is almost criminal. How can this happen? This is like robbing every American who pays taxes!!!!!!

    September 29, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • SAMIKEP

      I agree, but I wonder why CNN doesn't ask the question "Where is the trillion dollars Obama took from the taxpayers?"

      September 29, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. jorge washinsen

    It is apparent J Edgar has moved to this site also.Censor, censor.that is how Saddam ran his country and Iran is now.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  14. SciFiChickie

    I don't know what the frell they are smokin but can I get some????

    September 29, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
    • PooDIPIDI

      They poke smot.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  15. Bill

    Alaska is the biggest welfare state and wastes more taxpayer $ than any other state. I'm really glad the TeaTurds and GOP acknowledge this fact.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
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