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. Darryn Cooke

    Companies sure hate government involvement in what they do, but they sure love government money. Can't have both me says. Plus why are we spending $70Mil in the middle of nowhere to maybe help a handful of people year round. Wouldn't the "smarter" thing be to move these handful of people or let them be. It's their choice to live there.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Nah dont need tomove them.. just get them a new plane.. in Alaska this plane servis is amount to a metrobus or a greyhound in the city.. If they need a new bus they get one.. these people just need a new plane.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • noseawl

      Did you read the part of the story that mentions that Akutan is the largest seafood processing plant in North America. Why is it there? Because that is where the fish are.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. CJ

    I'd be interested in hearing the reasoning behind the project. I could see the advantages in having a fueling depot where coast guard search and rescue choppers could refuel to extend range, but that doesn't require a runway. If they were planing a military forward listening post and had a reasonable case for why they needed another, maybe but again would they need a runway?

    If they 'need' a better transpiration option it would be cheaper to station a military pilot there with a big chopper.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rick McDaniel

    Stop the project, as a complete waste of tax dollars.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Agreed.. The new plane is only 100k.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • noseawl

      Make, model, and capabilities of this mythical $100 K commercial aircraft? The aircraft they use, the Grumman Goose dates back to the late 1930s! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grumman_G-21_Goose

      September 28, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bob

    I bet those 100 residents would have preferred a $640,000 check for each of them.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • SJ

      Why dont you try and live here and see for yourself how it is to live here without transportation thats reliable for everyone. It is not only in the summer that the populaton spikes up to 1000. Its from January through end of April, End of May through First week of November. You people that are talking about this place have no idea how much work it provides for many people who cannot find jobs down South.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Newbdogg

      it provides 1000 jobs. That is not a lot for the money.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Leslie Jenkins

    What's amazing is that projects that desperately need improvement and funding and that would benefit tens of thousands of people each day (such as the New Jersey Transit route to New York City) are completely neglected. Unbelievable!

    September 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • randumbguy

      No matter how much money you dump into Jersey or the city it'll never be enough. You suggest spending money in of the few places on the plane where ROI would be less than building a runway to/from nowhere for nobody.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. She.

    Buying anerw plane makes to much sense and does not allow for them to launder enough money for new ferraris for everyone.. thats what it is..

    September 28, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mb2010a

    Each and every Alaskan, not convicted of a crime) gets a check every year from their Alaska Permanent Fund? Take that money and pay for this boondoggle if they have to have it. Why should US taxpayers be stuck with this bill? The estimated value of the fund for 2011 is $28 billion and this years check was for $1,174.00 per resident. This is money the state gets from its oil and other resources...

    September 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      its to encourage people to live in alaska.. Native americans get checks from their respective nations as well..

      September 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • noseawl

      She....you have no idea what you are talking about.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Charlotte

    There's more to this than meets the eye. Make no mistake, Alaska is viewed by the U.S. government and military as being of huge strategic importance. The ability to safely land military aircraft there could well be driving this project, more than the desire for the local villagers to go see Grandma for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately news sites like CNN rarely go the extra mile to consider what could be actually behind such an apparently ridiculous undertaking, and the people who read their stories don't bother to look any deeper either, just parroting the superficial talking points. If you're interested or concerned about this, do your homework before spouting an uninformed opinion. It may turn out you are correct – but don't be too lazy to find out the truth even if it isn't what you want to be the truth. FWIW I cannot imagine that Sarah Palin had anything to do with it. She isn't smart enough to grasp national strategic value, or to read between the lines with what's going on in China/Taiwan or the upcoming reinstatement of Putin in Moscow. Any, or all, of the above could be pivotal on this funding decision but rest assured she would be completely out of the loop, even if she had the capacity to grasp it (which IMHO, she doesn't).

    September 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yes1fan

      It could be for Corporate reasons, rather than Military, as well. But you are essentially correct. Pa too has a multimillion dollar airport that averages less than 30 passengers a day....

      September 28, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Don't be silly. The military is not looking to build a base in the Aleutians. Not to mention 4500 ft is not long enough for any large aircraft. You should follow your own advice and do your homework.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      @BEN A C-17 can land and take off on a 3500 ft runway, 4500 ft is more than large enough for fighter planes, bombers are long range so wouldnt have a need to fly there. Not saying there is a military objective there becouse in the end none of us know, but the ability to put up a bare base in the alutians would definetly be of strategic value. Just my 2 cents

      September 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      The only use that would have would be the ability to quickly scramble fighter jets. The C-17's wouldn't be needed fast enough that the Aleutians provide a sizable advantage over Hawaii, or over our bases in South Korea. As for fighters, there's just nothing that airport could offer that at least 10 ships in the US Navy couldn't. It's significantly less mobile and more vulnerable than a carrier battle group.

      I also don't think Putin is a problem. China-Taiwan, yes, but Putin seems a lot more concerned with solidifying power in Russia than with any aggressive expansion across the Bering Strait.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. Brian

    seas over 6 feet? You mean waves or storm surges of 6 feet – a 6 foot sea is easy to cross since it's just about the same depth as a grown human being...

    September 28, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Goonda

      6 foot seas refers to significant wave height
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Significant_wave_height

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

    I see that Ted Stevens still has his hand in the cookie jar

    September 28, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jim

    IIf you dig a little deeper, I'm sure you'll see that Trident has ties to some governor or senator and there's a palm to be greased somewhere !!!!

    September 28, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Reality Check

    If maintaining these WWII amphibious aircraft is too expensive why not just build modern copies of them so parts & repairs will be available? Gotta be cheaper than any of the alternatives listed.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICON_A5 already done, They just need to Buy one.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • noseawl

      Try again SHE. The ICON-A5 has a capacity of 2, one of which should probably be the pilot.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. tcp

    Essential Air Service Program? Sounds like we could cut some SERIOUS spending there if ONE route in Alaska is costing us 700K a year....methinks some research is in order...

    September 28, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. drogo, the stallion that mounts the world

    A project only a Republican could love.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. drogo, the stallion that mounts the world

    Begich and Murkowski have to been pushing this...what happened to the end of PORK?

    September 28, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • mb2010a

      Christi hasn't entered the race yet...

      September 28, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
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