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. lloyd roberts

    Them thar tea partiers really practice what they preach. Let a thirty year old without health insurance die, but don't let Trident Seafoods be without labor, at the governments expense. More corporate welfare, hypocrisy to the Nth degree. This is becoming an American comedy

    September 28, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • CCCCC

      Exactly

      September 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. mmdoc

    Let me guess Palin has to have her hands in this somewhere. One has to wonder what our gov't is thinking when they go off on tangents like these, we don't have enough for education but they can build runways that will be used for three months out of the year. Why can't Alaska fund the project themselves, they have enough oil proceeds? Typical waste of our tax payers money for stupid things again, when there are real people in need of it.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dutch Harbor Mama

      Ok, all of these comments are really just getting ignorant. First of all, Palin is NO LONGER in office. Secondly, not all of us supported her, just like not everyone in the US supported McCain, or Obama, or Bush, or Clinton for that matter. THIRDLY, if you went to school in the US you should know that Alaska is part of the United States of America, and we ALL pay taxes here as well, so this is coming out of OUR taxes as well. Also, the runway will be used year round, NOT just three months out of the year. And for all of you saying, "oh well they should just move," um, Katrina? East Coast Hurricanes? Floridian Hurricanes? No one is saying everyone there should move. We get "hurricane" force winds and torrential rain 8 months out of the year, and we don't complain, shoot, it doesn't even make the news 99% of the time. But "our" government taxes are used to pay to fix infrastructure that gets damaged in the lower 48, so why not help out a village that needs basic necessities like food, clothing, and housing materials. I would much rather see MY tax money go to a small town where some people I've grown close to over the years live, than into fixing up a third world country that has been destroyed by our country based on some intangible "war on terror." Also, "purchasing and maintaining a new amphibious plane" (which btw, aren't made anymore) would cost millions, and STILL wouldn't be reliable transportation in the Aleutians. And lastly, you know that little show you southerners love called "The Deadliest Catch?" Yeah, quite a bit of it is filmed in Akutan, as well as my home town of Unalaska and the port of Dutch Harbor. And the fishermen on that show need to be flown over there quite often, and well as pick up food and gear when they are in port over there. So get over it, the project is nearly complete. And btw, it isn't even mentioned in the article how many $millions the Akutan Tribe has put into the project themselves. Can the same be said for the communities that have been helped out by FEMA?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • PM Ohio

      Dutch Harbor Mama...I gree with a lot of what you say. I know you pay taxes in Alaska, but since you only have a a few hundred thousand people in the state, Alaska recieves far more tax benefits than they pay...and a boondoggle is a boondoggle. I agree that these people need a better way to get around, but it doesn't appear that all of the options were considered. It looks like they somehow had access to $65M in transportation funding and just approved it without considering all of the options and I would assume that the poiliticians and Corporate bog boys got thier cut, either money or promises. It's how it works folks. Work to change the system if you don't like it.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dutch Harbor Mama

      PM OHIO- Options have been considered, you really would have to live out here to understand. I worked for the airline industry out here for over 2 years, specifically with Akutan and other village flights. No one, not a single person in the lower 48, understands what it is like to go for 2 weeks without services. And when it comes to necessary medical services, 2 weeks without an airplane due to weather conditions is a very long time. 2 weeks without fresh food is a very long time as well. Many of the people I know out there fish for subsistence and grow a lot of there own vegetables, but trying to get milk and meat, which a lot of people down south obviously take for granted, can be semi- problematic out here in the Aleutians. You all see on tv the kind of weather we deal with and that is not an exaggeration. And flying in and out of a bay, we're talking actually landing in and taking off from the water can be a hairy situation. All I'm saying is there is a lot more government waste, condemning Alaska and the government for providing services to American people is petty at best.

      September 30, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. GrandOldPatsy

    Well who else is going to spend that money? Schools don't need textbooks, just buy them a bunch of eyepads so they can learn about how the world started only 5000 years ago, and that evolution is a myth.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • PM Ohio

      Nice one.

      September 30, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Colin in Florida

    A lot of amphibious aircraft can be purchased for $64 million.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dan

    What is the map of call of duty modern warfare.. really?

    September 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. DAVID IN FLORIDA

    And the Republicans accuse the Democrats of wasting government funds?
    These Republicans make me sick.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • The all potent one

      How exactly did you determine this is a result of republicans?
      Why doesn't your saviour do something about it because after all, he is president?

      September 28, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • mb2010a

      Because Alaska is a red state and their two senators are Republicans...can't get any clearer than that.

      September 28, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clark

      You are WRONG Alaska has a Senator from each party! Having lived in Akutan I can relate the experience of going three weeks without an aircraft being able to land in the bay due to severe weather. I have partaken in getting emergency US Coast Guard helicopter flights for medical transportation when no other transportation was available

      September 28, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tyler Tom

      Clark – Good thing the Tea Baggers aren't in control, they would have let you die on your island.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ELH

    These boondoggles are part and parcel of out ever-increasing national debt. Washington is incapable of restraining itself. It would probably be cheaper to move the processing facility.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      well.. there is the notion of the population growth on the individual isalnd, but if the local demand does not support the expansion yet why invest in it.. why not just improve the current operations with better equipment untill the demand does increase?

      September 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. bourneblogger

    What illiterate mutt wrote this drivel?... There are so many typos I almost lost track of what this story was about...

    September 28, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. The Joker

    I think the cost per passenger is in the range $50,000 to $100,000. That's some subsidy! The locals can use small planes as usual, so the real cost is being spent for the Trident Seafoods company, and amounts to a whopping subsidy!

    The FBI needs to look at campaign contributions and bank accounts to see who took the payola on this.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Agreed.. trident needs to build the runway..

      September 28, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      The state can get new planes to ferry the people.. Consider it businesses's contribution to the local infrastructure.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. PakiLegacy

    Isn't Akutan close to Russia? According to Palin, the residents should be able to see Russia from their backyards. How about we build the runway in Russia and the residents can just swim across?

    September 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Michael

    Where in the heck is the common sense? We dont have money for health care, we dont have money for education, we dont have money for anything................so they say. But wait a minute, if you want to go to war or build something that does not make financial sense all of a sudden we have money to pay for it. This goes against all logic and all reason known to human kind and animal kind. Incompetent morons.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Steve

    Want access to an airport? Move. I wanted (amongst other things) better public transportation, so I moved 1700 miles to get it. I wish someone would spend $640,000 on me ($64,000,000/100) so that my life could be easier.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Chris

    Who cares!

    $64 million out of a $3.5 trillion dollar budget is .000001%

    It's not even worth the time to review, focus on the big ticket items....not some stupid pork project.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      alaska does not have a 3.5 trillion dollar budget..

      September 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Right...$59 million is federally funded out of a $3.5 trillion dollar federal budget....

      September 28, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • CCCCC

      So why should the American taxpayer foot a bill that big for 100. It's a waste of money. And yeah this one project may be a tiny portion of the budget but this crap adds up. Maybe we could pay down our debt if lawmakers weren't lining all the bills with this junk.

      September 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sue Zahnd

    My comment is in reference to the bridge to the airport in Ketchikan. I suggest some consideration of the context. This is a busy airport connecting folks to medical facilities in Sitka and Juneau, to government offices in Anchorage and Juneau, not to mention a "gateway" to/from "the south" (as we Alaskans call it). Some of the folks making the trips have little money. People with funds can get a taxi, or take the shuttle across on the ferry...those without funds, walk "the plank" from the ferry up to the airport and/or down to the ferry and then to their transportation into/from town. Keep in mind that this "walk" is often in 70mph winds/rain that is "sideways" into your face while you are carrying/rolling your luggage. I was working for an agency where I traveled SE AK doing trainings so would have lots of "stuff". My first trip to Ketchikan from Juneau I decided to save the agency money and did the "walk". My hair blew over my face; my luggage fell to the ground...oh well...I did make it; but I also asked for the cab/shuttle fare from then on! Also, keep in mind that tourists encounter these things as well...and may not know what is in store. BTW high wind iis the norm in Ketchikan, not the exception...and yes...those AK Airlines pilots fly in those winds! Having said all that...I'm just suggesting that those who would mock AK needs might not have to worry about the added expense of a taxi/shuttle ride (shuttle: 23 $ each way)...but many Alaskans do the "walk".
    To often we judge the value of something on whether we, personally can afford it, or whether we have to experience it. And, thinking of tax payers...my reimbursements were paid from tax payer funds. I would like politicians making $$$$ decisions to experience what they judge. Do we sometimes ask and want what isn't good...sure....just sayin'.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. carly

    I wonder if caribou barbie is tweeting about this.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
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