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. Glades2

    It sounds like the rurnway is a good idea in the wrong place – another site needs to be found that is more accessible (perhaps that makes too much sense – lol)...

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

      If you look at the topo map provided there isn't any other suitable area for a runway than where it already is planned.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Cheeseburger

    Lobbyists? I'm a private pilot and I've noticed some of the most remote, light traffic airports have really, really nice terminals that have just been built. Call me an aviation traitor, but given the budget situation, I'd be just as happy with an airconditioned trailer terminal as long as the runways are in good shape.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Thats ALL i'm sayin..

      September 28, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. fukital

    to you idiots out there who have 1. never been to alaska. don't trash talk the state, or the poeple who live there ( palin is the exceptoin. she is a f$*king morron). my parents, sisters and their families live there. guess what no oil tax breaks. the cost of living is allot higher there, than it is for you lower 48 ters. so they pay a sh&t load more for the basic things needed to live than you ever will. 2. you can't catch, freeze, then prosess most sea food because it degrades the product. so "b" shut you pie hole.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harry Baxter

      You also get Government subsidies that the "Lower 48" don't get. Also, try creating a more dignified handle.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Cost of living is not higher in Alaska. Not only does everyone know it's cheaper to live there, but it's nowhere NEAR higher than practically anywhere in the lower 48 except maybe the worst of the worst.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sashatree

      Not only is your screen name juvenile....your spelling is pathetic!! And, yes things cost more in Alaska, but people also get paid proportionally more, so the ratio of income to expense is about the same as it is in the lower 48.

      I'll betcha little Sarah P. had something to do with this waste of money! What a waste of skin SHE is!

      September 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • sean

      Your fired. Your family is fired. Trident is fired. This plant and these people are not worth 700k annually, or a 77 million project. The American people do not want to subsidize red lobster's menu! Trident needs to pick up the 700k annually and pay for the 77 million project by themselves. If the "Tilapia" on the menu goes from $9 to $50 and Trident goes out of business, so be it!

      September 28, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. the_dude

    I'd rather have runways in Alaska than condom lessons in schools.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barnacle Bill

      Then you truly are an idiot.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobo737

      You took the time to write that?

      September 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • rc roeder

      I believe he did, obviously he would not be here if his parents had taken tha class

      September 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • o

      the_dude... abides (by what, I have no idea)

      September 28, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Smokingman

      Yes, over priced airports are prices we pay for more condom related deaths...

      September 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. michaelfury

    http://michaelfury.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/blue-skies-from-pain/

    September 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Charlotte

    @Ben, you are the one who is silly if you think that your narrow perspective completely grasps all the strategic interests of the government, the military and indeed as @Yes1fan points out, possible economice importance. You are also short-sighted if you think only in terms of C5 transports and large aircraft. Are you so deeply involved in intelligence and strategic decisions of the military that you are well-enough informed to rule out smaller aircraft, or the recognition that the already existing military facilities throughout the Aleutians (yes, sweetie-pie, the military DOES in fact have a long-standing strategic interest and presence there and you can bet your bottom dollar they aim to keep it) might not be served better, or safer, with an extra high-quality airstrip in case Adak or Attu is unavailable for some reason? Are you aware that every single Aleutian island is a volcano? Are you completely ignorant of the fact that during the Redoubt eruptions in '89-'90, the military had to scramble aircraft away from one base that was in the ash plume (which would render them incapable of flying) and move them to another faility in order to maintain readiness? No, of course you don't know these things. You just blab without knowing.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • tffl

      Or maybe the fact that is that there is really no strategic need for these bases and all this money is being spent because the state delegation (supported by lobbyists for the developers and military infrastructure) are just grubbing more money at the expense of both more important needs and the deficit...

      September 28, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. john buckmaster

    What is so seldom mentioned in connection with the "bridge to nowhere" is that Ketchikan is trapped between the mountains and the sea, with no room to expand. A bridge to the airport island would dramatically increase the availability of land that could be developed. That still might not be worth the money, but it has nothing to do with ease of access to the airport for the 8000 residents.

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

      thats fine, but you need to slow your roll..

      September 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • tffl

      Why exactly then is it desirable to spend that much public (federal!) money to enable expansion by a small population in that particular spot? Alaska is a large (and largely open) state – if you need land to expand, move to someplace where it is more practical (and less expensive)...

      September 28, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Harry Baxter

    Was caribou Barbie involved in this one as well? Talk about a "Job Creation" project!

    September 28, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. sassyfrass

    My guess is that this runway will be near future oil reserves, and the oil and gas industry wants public money to pay for an airfield to fly in equipment, supplies, workers and executives.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • enigma65

      bingo!

      September 28, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      precisely.. so the front is a meager seafood joint the other problem ate the natives who are probably not going to be down with the drilling.. especially if the EPA has anything to say about it.. so they gotta KNOCK THEM OUT first before they can convince the natives not to allow themselves to be paid off by michael cain...

      September 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • noseawl

      There is no oil out by Akutan. The geology doesn't support it. The issue is fish and the largest seafood processing plant in North America.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Vee

    Where in the HELL does the government have $59 million for this?????

    September 28, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Invented.. since no one is paying taxes.. no one can complain about where the tax dollars are being given away..

      September 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • David M

      It's only money. We can always print more!

      September 28, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. enigma65

    And all this time I thought the $23.89 per pound I was "paying" Trident for king crab legs would pay for the runway. Big lobby, small pond. Reminds me of the Patagonian Toothfish... they can't give this South American "cod" away in local markets but lobby to lift certain import restrictions, change the name to Chilean Sea Bass and all of a sudden it's a bargain at $19/lb.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mad as Hell

    Why can't they locate the runway on Akutan Island? Am I missing something here?

    September 28, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. unowhoitsme

    Too much money for 8000 people. That money could service more people. Is there another alternative that's not so costly?

    September 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sashatree

      If you think it's too much for 8,000 people, you'll be REALLY happy when you re-read the article and see that this airstrip will only serve 100 permanent residents and up to 1,000 seasonal workers!!!

      Copied from above article: 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.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. CanadienneFrancaise

    Ooohh....the runway is not for no one.
    It's just not for civilians...
    Military activities have been increasing on both poles of our planet check the facts.
    They need a "secure area" to adequately position themselves against other invading countries don't they.

    Americans want this Runway... but they just don't know it yet.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Zach Canada

    you guys realize in the north there is happening RIGHT NOW a battle of sovereignty between the US, Canada, Russia and the Scandinavian Countries... saying it's for the people who live / work up there is bogus.. call a spade a spade.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
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