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. NoobozaurusRex

    It's for aliens. 🙂

    September 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tidho

    Cheaper to buy a couple brand new planes. Cheaper to move the factory. Cheaper to have the government stay out of it...as always.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dreamer96

      Cheaper to buy a used submarine that is not effected by high winds or rough water.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • averagejoe67

      jlub-why does he have to leave, he is simply using COMMON SENSE. It WOULD be cheaper to by newer safer, planes.

      September 30, 2011 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeffry DuBois

      Spot On!

      September 30, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christian

      Alaska is so used to pork it doesn't even recognize waste anymore...even with Half-Term Sadie away on her book promotion "round the universe" tour.

      September 30, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Todd

    How about a gravel or grass strip? An Alaskan bush pilot doesn't need a $64+M runway to do business.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. lejaune

    But it creates jobs. That's politician's argument. When the 450B jobs bill gets passed, we will see more of these projects. Estimated to create 2 million jobs, $450B comes down to 225,000 per job, and we will have more money than we know what to do, for a few years. There will be massive waste.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Your calculations are a little off. $400 billion will go to Haliburton and $50 Billion for jobs...

      September 30, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Greg F.

    We have learned nothing.

    September 29, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Unangan

    Hahahahahahaha I love our HATERS out there....... YES i am from this beautiful ISLAND called AKUTAN 🙂 it is home

    September 29, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Unangan

    CLUELESS IN AMERICA

    September 29, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alice

      HAH I heard they are comin to Akutan on Sunday we shall see huh i doubt it they will be stranded and then hope they get stuck here and then they will think twice

      September 30, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Capt Jim

    My town has about 1000 people... Can we get a runway too?

    September 29, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Your Next President

    YEAH MY THOUGHT WAS... if you want a runway like the one in Anchorage... move to Anchorage or Dutch... if you want to practice cultural values... paddle to town..which ever town you choose...the REAL ALeut folks did it for almost 10,000 years... WHY STOP NOW..... : ) the last time I read the sign in Akutan it said 64 people...thats 1 million dollars per person..... I would have the cannery foot the federal portion of the bill... or it would be cheaper to move the community..... Kind of like Shishmaref trying to fight off the ocean... 1 grain of sand at a time.... Akutan doesnt have the tax base or the population and infrastructure to justify such an expense... my suggestion... if you live in an impractical and ill afforded place... MOVE... 240 million other Americans move in pursuit of employment and opportunity... maybe to help lower the village alcohol, drug abuse and teen pregnancy rate some folks in Akutan should move too..... I would get out while the gettin is good! Just sayin it like it is.....

    September 30, 2011 at 2:06 am | Report abuse |
    • mike c

      Millions of Americans can move because the feds spent millions of dollars on highway construction. People in the villages do not have that opportunity to casually pull up stakes and drive away.

      September 30, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alice

      OMG now bringing up alcohol abuse along with drug abuse and teen pregnancy wow you dont know anything maybe this happens where you are form but not here and i doubt you would be the next President hahaha

      September 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. David

    I hate to be the one to break the news to the media but 70 or so million for an all weather airstrip is not unreasonable, especially for remote area construction. How much do you think a mile of four lane highway costs, even when the road is close to the source of labor and materials in a major city?

    September 30, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      @David Excellent job of missing the point.

      October 1, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mike c

    There are no roads, the weather is horrible and the topography is bad. Of course it is going to cost a fortune to build an airstrip there. The people who live on the federally funded interstate highway system are quick to tell Alaskans to move into the city rather than use federal funds to provide access. It is easy to say curb federal spending (for the other guy) while benefiting from federal programs yourself.
    If you read the article and not just the headline, you will see the headline is simply inflammatory in nature, not accurate.

    September 30, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Alice

    You are right Zenia I hope they enjoy Alaskas seafood cause alot of it comes from here the Bering Sea and I would love for any perosn to fly here like now this time of year and see what we go thru I bet you everyting i have if they didnt get mail in two weeks I would like to hear what they have to say then and IF their loved one had to flown out ASAP and only means is a Alaska Coast Guard and pray they make it in to get them to the nearest hospital --lets see how they feel -they have no clue so I dont know why they are talkin like its waste a
    of money. As for getting here to Akun We as Natives will get there if we really need to which will take only 10-15 mins-and I will bet anything again no one would want to go thru that Pass in a 17-18 foot skiff like we have been doing for close to 140 yrs SO THERE -come here i might dare you to check it out folks

    September 30, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • LastWord

      From reading your post I think our government needs to build some decent schools in your area!

      October 2, 2011 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  13. JimMNH

    As mentioned by others .. buy or make some new planes at a couple million. Or build a grass strip for some Alaskan bush pilots or a rebuilt DC3. An airport for this area is insane. The company could have used the $1 million for some Russian float/ice planes and might actually have their own air service.

    October 1, 2011 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  14. Alice

    HEY FOLKS GET OVER IT --IT IS GETTIN DONE -TOUGH- AND WHOA THE MONEY MAKER THERE AND ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE WOOOHOOO SAY ALL YOU FOLKS WANT IT ISNT GONNA STOP IT IT WILL BE DONE IN 11 MONTHS AND I AM GONNA BE ONE OF THE FIRST ONES TO MEET THAT PEN AIR SAAB THAT LANDS–WOOOHOOO

    October 1, 2011 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
  15. BKS

    Well, if you build it they will come.

    October 1, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
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