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. Mark

    I noticed the reporter made it seem that the climb up to the airport was treacherous when in fact there is a gradual slope just up the beach from where this fraud climbed up. Instead of asking why they need an airport try asking why they need a 77million dollar airport most likely you will not hear the truth that somebody in the government has plans to do more that just help the natives. I'm sure the airport will have capabilities well beyond what is needed for the village and the fish processing plant.

    October 8, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Zoolander

    Everyone wants to criticize this project but no real answers, they can test this ferry called Susitna.

    October 8, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chrissy

      Answer: create a processing plant on the land near the airport instead. Eliminate the whole ferry situation entirely. Have a helicopter available for emergency flights as part of coast guard station that is manned anyway, and copter is available to region already.
      As for the 100 people living on the island, they are a seafaring people as it is, and if they suddenly want to fly away somewhere, they can make the trip to the other island. It is not far by boat at all. Periodic shipments to the island can continue by boat or by air drop.
      Company should sponsor a ferry for the workers on the island to get to the new factory location. The company should be footing more of this bill, not the taxpayers, if it mostly just supports their company's profits. For it to be on the taxpayer's dime, it needs to support far more people. Otherwise way too few for a full fledged airport/runway.

      Maybe cheaper to purchase a harrier cargo plane that doesn't need a big runway to airlift in and out on the original island?

      October 12, 2011 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Gaunt

      The answer is simple. let Alaska build its useless airfield. Or its previous useless bridge. let them build whatever useless things they want. Just do with Alaskan state money: stop using federal funds on wastrel projects.

      Remember the staggering hypocrite Palin, the one who quit halfway through a single term? She was for the bridge to nowhere, then against it. Then she vetoed the bridge to nowere, as she loudly proclaimed in many speeches. Of course what she neglected to proclaim is that even having VETOed the bridge, she KEPT the federal money allocated to it, refusing to return it to the federal government.

      October 26, 2011 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  3. Dusty

    How much would it cost to move the village?

    October 9, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • aneshia

      thank you very much you just showed how...dumb everyone (being rude) is sounding and so far that was #1

      January 2, 2012 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Danae

      That's just wrong, you can't just move us like we'r cargo.

      December 9, 2012 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
  4. Recovering Republican

    Maybe Sarah Palin can sponsor a bridge.... She is good at this sort of thing.
    First, she will sponsor the bridge, then, when everyone declares themselves against the bridge, she can cancel the bridge and take credit for her foresight and defense of financially conservative behavior associated with doing away with such a silly plan. How many people live on this island, 20, 50, 100?????

    October 11, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danae

      If you are asking questions then you shouldn't give answers.

      January 1, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Taryn

    you think someone would try to stop this airport to nowhere! Bush encouraged it, and Obama hasn't tried to stop it! Where would they even get a hovercraft! Its nuts! and on top of that, its all coming out of the tax payers money and the whole thing is just for a dumb fish company! ERRRRRRRR!

    October 16, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danae

      All right the lower 48 don't need the fish that comes from here

      December 9, 2012 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  6. the truth

    The article failed to mention that the airport is being built due to promises made to the Native villagers after we bought them from Russia. Trident is the only industry on the island, but most of the villagers won't work there. The workers are flown in from eastern europe, the philipines, and mexico. After the seafood season, they are flown back to their own countries. So it's not just Trident profiting from a $77 million dollar taxpayer financed airport, a lot of untaxed foreign workers will benefit too. Win-win!

    October 21, 2011 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jackson

    Look at how much this company makes off of this area. They go get fish they dont pay for like 1 billion pounds. Remember FREE. Pay fishermen little to no money. So thats FREE hire people from the farthest reaches of the world take all there expensis to get them there out of there checks charge them to live there only let them work as the fish come in pay them min. wage. There is NOWERE to go so here comes the company store. SO the people work for free. Why would you not give them a free airport? There a huge corporation do you know who they are?

    October 26, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
  8. Proud Danae

    IT'S CALLED EVELUTION. If nobody lets us *TRY* then we could just crummble down untill the villages are left to be ruins! We pay taxes like everyone else, and if you try your hardest to think about it, because you woulden't be saying these things if you where, you could take a trip (*MAYBE*) down there (no spasific island) and see it's magnifacent beauty. And i read somewhere that everyones ...'badmouthing' because it's "soooo much mulah" but istead dont spend like $300(ex.) on something completly usless!!!

    December 31, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Charlie Bader

    @Chrissy- The reason they can't move the fish processing plant to Akun is there is no safe harbor there. "Surf Bay" should be your first clue. Whatever means will be used to transport passengers from Akun to Akutan will not be kept in Surf Bay, but at a facility near the head of Akutan Harbor. Remember, fishing boats are coming and going as well and they don't want to be slammed into a dock by massive surf rolling in from the Bering Sea. Akutan provides an excellent place for fishing boats to find shelter- hard to come by in this cold, hard, unforgiving land which we chose to call home.

    July 24, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
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