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. BKS

    Future asset for polar oil tappin. Just waiting for the Ice Cap to dissapear.

    October 1, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. SherylLynn

    Sounds like Akutan needs to be a remote area with no inhabitants unless they can live without federal funds. WAY TOO MUCH money to serve so few – even the $700,000 currently spent is too much.

    October 1, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • wenhamhome

      Totally agree. Unless there was a plan for an international airport/refueling stop (like Ila do Sal) there is no point whatsoever.

      October 1, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Davey R.

      Right on Princess ! !

      October 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil in Oregon

      Airports are important for more than just serving immediate gratification needs. SOME people look at the future.

      October 5, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      The probably could live without federal funds, they have a budget SURPLUS from oil.

      October 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • pete

      Great piece! Just one question, Who was responsible for getting this apropreation through? List the names of those responsible for this sad joke and then call them to account for thier actions in a public forum.

      October 6, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe

      you know people that have never lived in a place like akutan should not spout off like they know what they are talking about.tha aleutes have been here for over 4000 years, why should they move? you people take for granted going to the store or medical appointments, even seeing relatives.we dont have thatr option, elders trying to get to the doctor have flights on the goose canceled because of weather then have to reschedule trying to get another appointment, another flight,another escort, then finding housing as the doctor is 800 miles from home. key word is HOME.should you be unable to get to the doctor or store would you move to make it easier to get to it? leave family, the place your anscesters were born and raised,where your kids are and raising your grandchildren? before you make a smart assed answer remember you might only go back once a year to visit weather permiting. you dont like out airport... dont come here,you arent going to break our hearts.mind your own buiseness if you cannot speak with experience and inteligence

      October 8, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  3. Chris

    Alaska should have an intrastate air service which would include all the independent air services to operate under. This idea would enable construction and maintenance for existing and proposed airports, and an in state super fund for the maintaining of all the independent air service providers that exist now and in the future. The intrastate "umbrella" organization would be funded by a state tax to residents.... obviously, and thus be mandated to provide air service for all citizens. Anyway, I just thought I would throw this idea out there from off the top of my head... quick think, obviously but worthy of attention at least for discussion.

    October 1, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. NicNic

    If the aircraft they have been using are getting TOO OLD to use, then why not hire an an airplane maker and make these craft new? Unless the one airplane is $64 million by itself! Here's a wacky thought......Maybe they are planning for global warming to change the weather in Alaska and are thinking ahead of how throngs of people are going to now visit since it will be warmer and less snow and ice! In this regard, this may be Alaska getting the last laugh.

    October 1, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • When pigs fly

      http://www.antillesseaplanes.com/

      October 3, 2011 at 4:23 am | Report abuse |
  5. AGrey

    And these people can't move (with relocation assistance) why?

    October 2, 2011 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Declan

      Just because some people who live in a rural setting and have some difficulty in travelling, doesn't mean that they need to move. Akutan is their home and the native Aleuts have been living in these conditions for countless generations. Also people work for a living and the fishing industry employs these villagers in a processing plant.

      October 2, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris

      Why should they have to move if they don't want to? Why don't you move.

      October 5, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. fred bazzeeda

    cut, cut, cut. this and the million other nonsense programs need to be self funded or dropped. simple. budgets have to be made and met. amercia is going broke. anywhere a dollar can be saved, it must be done. immediately!
    peace,
    fred

    October 2, 2011 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
  7. Rick

    Cut the military to pay for this.

    October 2, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • jjh

      Can't cut the military expenditures. Too much of our internal economy depends on military spending because by law the suppliers must be in the territory of the United States. This is unlike material for domestic consumption where there is no restriction as to the source of supply. There is no land which is suitable for a runway on Akutan. However, Akuntan is the island on which there is the major employer is the state's largest seafood processor. Money spent here, at least, stays in America unlike our military expenditures in which we have chosen to become the world's bully.

      October 6, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  8. When pigs fly

    Peninsula Airways operates the World War II-era Grumann G-21 Goose and said they were too antiquated to maintain (so they needed a $77 million airport and helicopter). Except that you can buy a brand-new modern version of the Goose, the G-21 Super Goose, at about $4million each. See http://www.antillesseaplanes.com/

    October 3, 2011 at 4:23 am | Report abuse |
  9. Cora

    Please people wake up!!! This money isn't being spent to service 100 people or even 1000 people, the money is corporate welfare for Trident, the company that needs to fly in 900 workers every year to operate its processing plant. Trident should be forced to pay for this, not the US taxpayer.

    October 3, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tim

    Maybe they should just move the processing plant to the other island. It would be cheaper.

    October 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Unangan

    So hopefully CNN get the story right hahaha we are somewhere because CNN has arrived here in Akutan haha looks like they might get stuck here weather is crappy ..

    October 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Unangan

    WELCOME TO AKUTAN CNN HOPE YOU ENJOYED YOUR LITTLE VISIT 🙂

    October 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Peachy Bereskin

    we were all praying you all got stuck–& you did–welcome to our world–wonderful huh.....now this can go on for weeks so buckle down the hatches you are in for the ride of your life....

    October 5, 2011 at 2:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      You have a solution to your problem about the wind and the weather. Nobody is forcing you to live there. MOVE

      October 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Peachy Bereskin

    Yah we are getting our long overdue airport–yes over due by 20 yrs–thats why the price tag is so high.Its getting built and will help accommodate fisherman for all the boat traffic we will soon be having. Wait till you see the BIG beautiful boat harbor been'n built that will accommodate all the king crab fishing boats & smaller fleet of boats-it'll be fine..& we'll just build another city on AKUN

    October 5, 2011 at 2:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Unangan

      yo Peachy are you going to run for mayor over there haha ill vote for ya 🙂

      October 6, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. x

    If their are only 3 flat areas for structures to be built, due to lava rock formations, and the people live in one spot, their place of work is in the second spot, and the airport is in the third spot, what do you expect these people to do, CNN? An airport would allow the people to move inland and commute safely via small plane, which is a common and main safe method of traversing the Alaskan wilderness. Tell us CNN, would you prefer the Feds forcibly remove the native people from their ancestral homeland? Or would you deny them their right to freedom of travel beyond their home region? Maybe CNN should spend some time there and see how safe the daily commute through Arctic weather and seas can be? CNN is run by ignorant cold-hearted people.

    October 6, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
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