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. ArlineGHarpe

    Check the Alaskan politicians bank accounts for bribery (lobby) funds. This is a standard American way of "creating jobs" right?

    September 29, 2011 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  2. Sue

    When are the majority (200+million Americans) we going to stop letting approx 500 elected officials wasting our tax money???? Elections? don't make me laugh.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Barry G.

      I fear that this problem will not be corrected, for it is our elected officials who would have to make laws that prevent such abuses; and, they have no intention of doing this.

      They're too cozy with the lobbyists, if you know what I mean; and, they love the money too much.

      it would be like asking the foxes to padlock the henhouse.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Daddy2010

      Sue, for everyone who asks such questions, I will ask "What have you done?"
      I think the answer is the same for most families. I barely have enough time to work, do homework and play with the kids, manage the house, drive the kids to sports, and get to bed before the sun rises.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TMCNova

    At first look this doesn't sound like a very good project. But, the government is in the business of providing infrastructure and investments that are not immediately profitable. I'm sure that first road and airfield built to the middle of nowhere North Dakota or Idaho didn't sound like a very good idea either. But once you build a runway or road to nowhere it suddenly becomes somewhere and the long term benefits almost always follow.

    Without the vision to see a different prosperous future and the courage to invest in it, you will be stuck in the same old tighten the belt another loop notch place until you run out of notches.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Um, no!

      September 29, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • tpot

      The first roads to the Dakotas were for coast to coast transport with little, if any, consideration for the Dakotas. Get smart.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Durundal

      I think Nova's point is that perhaps in the long term, an airfield at that location will be of infinite more use when we start competing with russia for harvesting the resources in and around the area. Its a bit of a creative stretch, but I think that the project is a dud, and a classic example of how federal oversight is imperfect, and states can game the system for a disproportionate spot at the trough. Overall, a very well intentioned federal program which is being victimized by states' political gamesmanship.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • TMCNova

      @Tpot
      Location is not what is important here. The idea is that without infrastructure a place that is in the middle of nowhere stays there. With it come benifits that at the time of it's construction can rarely be imagined.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • TMCNova

      @Tpot
      Oh, and thanks for the immediate slur on my character.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • TMCNova

      @Dave
      Um, why??

      September 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Vesstair

    "The price this time is $77 million"

    "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 "

    I think I see a solution. Subsidize a NEW amphibious aircraft which will be easier and less expensive to maintain... and can serve other communities. I mean, this is because there are 900 seasonal workers for one company. If they want a 70-million-dollar project built for their benefit, they really need to put up more than 1.3% of the cost.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Willowspring

      Excellent idea! An updated cargo plane that can service other areas as well? Why didn't the planners think of that?

      September 29, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  5. Todd

    Corporate welfare is out of control. I can't stand corporations that just want to sit on their butts and collect tax dollars to build their useless runways. Try getting a job and working hard corporate America. Earn the money yourself for your runways

    September 29, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Barry G.

      Thank the lobbyists for this, and thank our elected officials who take their money, thereby becoming beholden to them.

      As we speak (write) lobbyists are walking up and down the corridors of the congressional offices in Washington. They wear $2000 suits and $750 alligator shoes.

      When the lobbyists knock on the office doors of our senators and representatives, the elected officials no longer ask their names, they simply ask: “Who are you with”.

      (Of course, they should know better than to end a sentence with a preposition.)

      That’s how our government works, and it’s been that way since the administration of Ulysses S. Grant. It’s just that at the time of the Grant Administration, they met in the hotel lobby, across the street from their offices; now, they meet right in the congressional offices.

      (By the way that's why they're called lobbyists.)

      Regardless of whether this practice of lobbying is legal, isn’t this corruption?

      Shouldn't our elected officials have better sense than this?

      September 29, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Kenny

      You do know that this kind of "corporate welfare" is what got us out of the last depression, right? This airport will probably bring more jobs to the area as well, aside from the construction jobs.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Todd

    I wonder if Sara can see Akun Island from her back porch?

    September 29, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • anthony

      What a moronic comment.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mac

    It would be cheaper to move the cannery out to the old Naval base out on Adak. They have the airport that is still maintained, and all the old military housing for the workers, docks, fuel facilities, air service, recreation facilities etc. It is a little run down and would require some work to get it back into shape but still cheaper. OK so it is 475 miles farther out in the ocean, but if you are already out in the middle of nowhere, what is it to be a little more out in the middle?

    September 29, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Shirl

      Adak is alot farther west, and that would not solve the problem of air service to the City of Akutan. People have died because they were not able to get them out on a flight as it is. Once the Grummons that serve the community now are pulled from service, the only way in or out of Akutan will be by boat.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. BaileyWall

    Simple Translation: Private company lobbies for $77M public project to benefit their operation.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  9. Barry G.

    This is what is wrong with this country, and I’m afraid that both parties are guilty of making such irresponsible and self-serving arrangements.

    Of course the lobbyists (who have corrupted our government officials since the administration of Ulysses S. Grant) deserve a much of the credit for such irresponsible financial mismanagement.

    The people of Alaska and the rest of the U.S. should be outraged about this and should insist that those responsible for such spending be held accountable for their actions.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • people of alaska

      why don't you focus on yourself, and let us decide what to be outraged about. You don't mind when we sit back and let the oil flow from our lands... now you tell us to be outraged by this. You haven't a blind man's clue about Alaska.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Cadiz

    The cost of subsidizing the flights will not be reduced appreciably so the $700,000 per year will most likely continue to exist. Besides, there are more modern amphibeous aircraft available, but they cost more than the old WW2 aircraft. Of course you could buy quite a few for $70 million.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  11. Aces

    Do you liberals need any more examples of why central planning big gov't isn't good?

    September 29, 2011 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • TheMovieFan

      Alaskan liberals?

      September 29, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Shirl

      Blame Bush then... this project has been in the works for many years. Construction finally started well over a year ago.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jeff

    What ever happened to free market economics? I hear this all the time when they want to outsource jobs or do things that make the company massive windfalls on the backs of the worker bees, yet, here we are, subsidizing nearly $100MM worth of tarmac and hovercrafts for one company. Here's an idea, end the seaplane subsidy, end the runway subsidy, make the economics work for themselves and give me the hovercraft so I can get the hell out of this insanity.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  13. Paulo

    This should be fully funded by the state of Alaska. This is an entirely local problem and does not deserve federal (national) funding. There is a back story and probably some campaign financing involved here.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  14. Kostonian

    If you choose to live in some jerk-water hell then these people can walk for all I care. All of these backward red-states should be given nothing.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • TMCNova

      When a road/runway/bridge is built to a place like this the materials, equipment and personnel can get there easily and cheaply enought that it is no longer a jerk-water hell, but a place where money can be made from the natural resouses and suddenly your investment is repaid by the hundreds and thousands.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Frank

    Looking at the topo map, the only plot of land for an airstrip is on the other side of the sea as the rest of the surrounding land is not very flat. But I think if the increase is from Trident, they should foot more of the bill.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
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