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. Alaskan

    For all of you lower 48 folk...

    Alaskans pay federal taxes just like everyone else, yet there is not a single interstate highway here. As we look at it, we are assisting in paying for all of your lower 48 interstates, you can assist Alaska on whatever federal projects we need.

    Have a nice day 🙂

    September 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • former alaskan

      Alaska already and consistently receives more in federal taxes than it pays, while the state I am in receives less. Not exactly fair when your state consistently favors a party that preaches the evils of federal government.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alaskan is Right

      This is ridiculously true. You Alaskans need airports worse than most in the world.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • RealAlaskan

      Wrong. The Glenn Highway is an interstate. It is, in fact, officially US1.
      Also, Alaska receives over $1.60 from the federal gov't for each $1 Alaska contributes.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      And this airport is something you've decided you "need"?? If that's the best you can do to prioritize federal spending then maybe that's why you aren't getting much of it.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nsiteful

      Do I even need to point out that you would need to have a bordering state for an interstate? And that every last one of you is given federal aid for your subsistence? Do you want to say you need a highway? I think you already have more miles of road per capita... but I'll have to check. Alaska already has greater access to water than any other state for transportation use... but then of course the answer always will be: if you want what everyone else has, move where everyone else IS.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaggieJS

      Of course there's no interstate highway – it would have to cross Canada to get there. You can't have an interstate highway unless it connects two states. Or am I wrong here?

      And by the way, I was born in Alaska, so I'm pro-AK.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richard

      The greenies will oppose it because they hate anything to do with civilization. The urban elitists in New York and Detroit will oppose it because their decimated cities need about $500 billion to be fixed. How about the $500M Obama blew on that stupid solar company?? No media consternation about that??

      September 28, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • GarretTL

      I thought we all learned back in 2008 Alaska takes more than it gives! It fact it was one of the biggest takers forcing other states to cover it's butt! How about Alaska quit giving out those generous dividends to all those citizens and start paying your own way?

      September 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • avyguy

      Alaska has over 1000 miles of interstate highways ranking 13th.

      http://www.interstate-guide.com/state-index.html

      September 28, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      The reason there isn't an "interstate" highway there is because Alaska isn't connected to another state. The "inter" in interstate comes from the Latin "intero" meaning "between". Since the highways run "between" states they are called "interstates". If you aren't connected to another state you can't, by definition, have an "inter"state highway.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • leecherius

      Uh..US 1 runs down the east coast..check a map.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      There are four designated interstate highways (according to Wikipedia, designated for funding purposes) in Alaska. They are designated A1, A2, A3 and A4. It is a big state and I think you overlooked them.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve P

      An Interstate highway does *not* need to connect two states. Hawaii has Interstate highways. So does Puerto Rico. Many Interstatre highways are contained within one state, if not within one city. The term "Interstate" designates standards to which the highways are built, as well as that they were funded by the Interstate system.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Yes, Alaskans do pay federal taxes. And they get back $1.84 for every dollar they pay, third highest in the country. Don't play the "we deserve more" when you already get more than 96% of the country

      September 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fred Frederson

      Think about the what the word "interstate" might mean. Now, think about how many states boarder Alaska. Alaska gets plenty of federal dollars.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      And yes, I-A-1 through I-A-4 are part of the US Interstate system, funded with taxes from all 50 states. So strike two.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • former alaskan

      There is no interstate partly because Alaska does not border ANY other state, hence no INTER STATE anything. Alaskan's get more federal dollars paid to the state then they pay to the Federal government. A higher percentage of jobs in Alaska are Federal jobs than any other state. They complain the most about Federal regulations.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zenia Borenin

      Thank you!! Yes we are geographically challenged..thats whats bringing the cost up. If we were in a road system, yes it would make it a lot cheaper. Sorry, but the 100 people who they mention also work and they pay taxes. The 1000 plus at Trident, a lot of them list Akutan as their residence. So, the 2010 Census lists Akutan's population at 896. So saying 100 people live here is VERY MISLEADING!! & the reporter, I invite you to come down and visit my village. See where we live before writing about it. We have a right as much as you, to have a safe means of transportation. Sorry I went off on your link–but thanks for your UNDERSTANDING...the rest of you need to go to work you apparently have too much time on your hands..... 🙂 & have a better then average day!!

      September 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Spock

    More Bridges to no where? When will all this waste end? That why americans are MAD !

    September 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • NotYou

      Not really. This is why you are mad. There is waste in a lot of areas, but as others pointed out-Alaska has few if any federal highways unlike other states. This is their "highway". You might have lower blood pressure if you avoided getting mad just to get mad.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jack brownfield

    I would like to know who the construction contractor is on this project.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ted

      Very good point, CNN, get busy.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. GarretTL

    Why again are the taxpayers paying for this??? This sounds like an issue between 100-1000 people. If Alaska thinks it needs it, Alaska can pay for it, not Joe Smoe in Arkansas... The federal government is once again overstepping it's boundaries.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      indeed..

      September 28, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • NotYou

      Please tell me what state you live in. The one where the feds pay for nothing.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • GarretTL

      Yeah I was stationed in Alaska for 6 years (Eielson AFB), I know what they have and how they work, and that kind of money for 100-1000 people is a complete waste. All states use FED money, but they try to make that money useful to more than 0.00000000000000019 of the population!!!

      September 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Gerry..

    Seems to me the most cost effective idea would be to move the fish plant to a more accessable area. As for the 100 people who live there year round, they probably have lived there long enough to know how to get to the mainland. IF not, then they can move too. WHY must our government subsidize them just because they want to live in the boonies?

    September 28, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kelcey

    Better question to ask is whether these islands will be swamped with water in the next few years as the ocean levels rise.

    Regardless. This project should be stopped immediately. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BobJ

    I've lived in Alaska, and I learned to fly there. Most Alaskans outside Anchorage and Fairbanks go pretty much everywhere by plane, since that's about all there is.

    There are some issues with this. First, it'd be nice to put the runway where the people are, but if you look at how closely spaced the contour lines are on that island, that means the terrain is very steep. So the other island, with the much wider contour line spacing (and thus flatter land), is the place to put it.

    That said, $64 million for a 4500' runway? Paved with what? That's over $14,000 per FOOT of what amounts to a short, straight road. I'm fully aware it costs a lot to get building materials out to the Chain, but this seems a bit much, and why is so much of it federal money? Alaskans don't pay any state income tax because of oil revenue. In fact, every year each and every legal resident of Alaska (who has lived there more than a year) gets a CHECK from the state. Yeah, they state pays the people and not the other way around. Of course, the money comes from the oil companies, which means it comes from the rest of us who buy the oil, but apparently that isn't enough, they want our tax money too.

    As someone who has flown in Alaska, I can see the need for the runway. The Aleutians are important for the fishing industry, and more of the fish you eat comes from up there than you realize. Still, if you have a state that's fat enough to send its people a check every year, it seems to me they can pony up more than 8.5% of the cost, especially since the cost is so absurdly high.

    Alaskans are justifiably proud of their state, and they love to make disparaging comments about all of us down in the Lower 48, with special hatred reserved for Washington. They despise the idea that the Feds have anything to say about what happens in the state, but they sure seem ready to pick our pockets to build their infrastructure. Infrastructure that in this case primarily benefits a corporation. My vote would be, reverse those percentages. We can kick in a few million, but let the state of Alaska pick up the lion's share, unless of course the corporation that wants the thing can be convinced to simply build the thing itself (in which case it would be built for a couple of million).

    September 28, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Thank You. Alaska gets no more money, Period.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alaskan

      Thanks for leaving....you definitly seem like a DB

      September 28, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alaskan

      She...

      Deal, we ditch your lame ass country, you get none of our oil 🙂

      September 28, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Works for me.. Im with Willie with 4lbs and some bio diesel.. Go Crisco!

      September 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • BobJ

      Like I said, Alaskans like to make disparaging comments about the rest of us. They love to talk about "their" oil, even though they spent nothing to develop it. That's the Alaskan way: get someone else to pay to develop something, then rake in the cash all the while insulting the people who paid for it.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • CurrentAlaskan

      I currently live here and have for over 20 yrs. You sound like you lived in Anchorage.Yep, we get a check from the oil revenues to live here. Thats because we are paying about 8-10 bucks per gallon to heat our homes. We are paying about the same for a gallon of milk. Want to visit the folks? Your looking at about $2000 per person. A entry level home is about $300K. You cant drive anywhere unless you are on the ONE main road, the Alcan highway comes in from Canada, swings down to Anchorage and then loops up through Fsirbanks and comes back to itself at Tok. They call it different names and give it different numbers, but its still all the same road. That hits maybe 1/16th of the state. For some of us Alaskans, like those in SE Alaska, if you want to go to another part of the state you have to have a passport and go through customs as you pass through Canada. Why do we live here? Because we love the great outdoors and want to get away from the cynical ratrace. We work in the oil industry, supplying US oil. We work in the logging trade, supplying you with wood producs. We work in fishing, supplying the nation with over half of its seafood. Yes, it costs a lot for us to live here, and the Feds kick in a lot. But think about what it would be like without us next time you are sitting there, wiping the mayo off your mouth with a paper napkin, while eating the Fish sandwich from McD's drive through. We supplied all that. Perhaps you should come visit. Be sure to bring lots of cash. Its expensive to get around.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinks2010

      Good post, BobJ. Current Alaskan–I live in an oil, lumber and seafood producing state and where I live you'd literally have to spend $300,000.00 to buy a dilapidated house the slightly larger than the size of the average garage. Everything is expensive here to (though perhaps not as expensive as in Alaska). My state is one of the states that gets less back per $1 paid in federal taxes so that means in addition to paying state and local taxes which at least benefit us here, I am paying taxes to support those of you who live in Alaska "Because we love the great outdoors and want to get away from the cynical rat race." I'd like to live in Switzerland for the same reason and because it also offers nice cultural amenities. I don't suppose you Alaskans would like to fund that for me? I thought not.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dt

    A Chinese company, of course.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. brian

    This must end–what a waste of scarce funds–thanks obummer for another useless project

    September 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • The all potent one

      So OB caused this now? I don't care for him either but blaming this on him is quite a strech.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ted

      Your blaming Obama for this?
      You blaming him for your hemmorrhoids too?

      September 28, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinks2010

      Try placing the blame where it really belongs with the members of Congress who voted for it and especially with the members from Alaska.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. al in memphis

    The bottom line is this is happening all the time. The conversation is about benefiting the people when in reality it mostly benefits a few companies. The company contributed $1mil (1.56%) to a project that going to make them a lot of money. Taxpayer get stuck with the bill because the money is borrowed and the company gets tax breaks on top of not contributing much to projects like this.

    I agree, the jobs are needed, but that kind of money should produce jobs that stay in the community longer that helps expand the manufacturing base.
    All types of business spring up when you have an stable manufacturing base.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. nosaint

    Sounds to me like Trident seafood should figure out how to get their employees to the Island by themselves. This is Trident's problem. Let them pay for it!

    September 28, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinks2010

      Exact;y.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tim Morrissey

    any reason you cant put the airport on the same island the village is on?

    September 28, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Blogson

    The rumor is that the pricey airport is going to be named in memory of former Senator Ted Stevens, the King of Alaska pork barrel projects who interestingly died in a plane crash last year, and also for Sarah Palin in honor of her credentials as a primary Tea Party advocate by obtaining millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars for the booming metropolis of Wasilla while she was mayor.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Frangible

    Uh, so if there were problems with that model of hovercraft, why not use a different hovercraft? I'm sure the Russians have some cold-weather rated ones. Or a USMC LCAC built to milspec standards.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • leecherius

      Use a sub......google US submarines. They could buy a fleet of these for that price.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mr J

    CUT them off. Let Ms Palin pay for it – she is making millions!

    September 28, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
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