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. sameeker

    Building an airport so a seafood company can get it's workers there. Sounds like more corporate welfare to me.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. She.

    Here is an interesting tidbit..

    According to the tax foundation, a non-partisan information group, south Carolina takes in 1.35 from the federal coffers for every dollar they put in. So they are supported by states like New York, which only takes .79 for every dollar they put in, or New Jersey (the lowest in the nation) which takes .61.

    So since the governor of South Carolina is grandstanding about not taking stimulus money for his state. (which he will of course take, he is just posturing) how about we cut off ALL federal tax expenditures in the state? They would be bankrupt in the matter of weeks.

    BTW Comparison for the other governors who are complaining:

    Alaska: 1.84 for every $1.
    Louisiana: 1.78 for every $1.
    Mississippi: 2.02! for every $1.
    Idaho: 1.21 for every $1.
    Texas: .94 for every $1. (the only governor not being hypocritical of the bunch)

    So why are these governors complaining when they have been sucking at the federal teat for so long?

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

      Oil subsides are included in thoses numbers making them completly worthless

      September 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alaskan

      Also, two thirds of all the acerage of americans national parks is in alaska. Keeping all that going so y'all can come up here and see it isnt free.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      So many good Red States who talk about "Fiscal Conservatism" are really nothing but Welfare Queen States that suck money from far too often "Blue States" because they cannot get their fiscal house in order and require the Fed's to keep them propped up.

      If states like California could only get back the money they put into the Federal Government they would be in FAR better fiscal shape.

      AND that would give those good fiscal conservative red states the chance to show off how well their fiscal policies could really work 🙂

      September 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • SC Dude

      Who are you talking about? Our Governor is Nikki Haley. Last I checked, not a "he." The numbers sound right though! You should see the welfare line here. Parking lot full of escalades.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chris

    Didn't the Republicans recently try to end subsidies for rural airports and Harry Ried blocked it?

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

      I dont think they should end subsidies.. they might want to put a percentage cap for the overall project though

      September 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Thats not what happened though.. They were holding the FAA workers hostage witht heir bill..

      http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_18614487

      September 28, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jb

    I think we should let them have the runway as long as Palin is permanently placed on the island (without any contact to the media).

    September 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Larry

    Can you say Pork Barrel and crooks?

    September 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. The all potent one

    Seems like for that much money they could make a flat spot near the town

    September 28, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. azfc204

    the company should be paying for way more of this project if it is soley based on transportation for employees and goods which it sounds like thats the case

    September 28, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Dude

      They should be paying for it all.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. supernautk1

    Alaskan, your state receives a lot of federal money just to operate, no state sales and has the lowest tax burdens on individuals. Before you start piping about the lower 48, you should consider that you guys don't even come close to paying your share. On top of that, let's consider what the argument is: spend $59 million in fed. funds to save $700k a year!? That will take more than 60 years to pay for itself!! Does it benefit the rest of us taxpayers or make any sense? NO. Why don't you alaskans take the money out of your Permanent Fund Dividends? You get paid to live there... use THAT money.

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

      Dont like it....

      Too Bad...

      Perhaps you should send a letter to your senator and congressman demanding that Alaska be removed from the United States

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

      Why use our money when we got your's 🙂

      Are you hard at work today? 🙂

      September 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • BobJ

      Keep talking, Alaskan. You are making the arguments for us, and making yourself and your fellow Alaskans look bad.

      Let's hope the publicity this article is creating will not only get this project stopped, but every other boondoggle in Alaska that Stevens finaggled. Alaska has plenty of money, which it got from us anyway because we bought the oil, so let it spend that money.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Hello_Getaclue

    Airport on Island A needs to build Airport on Island B for seasonal traffic for largest seafood plant.
    Let company rebuild plant on Island A. Come on!
    Seafood company must have seafood boats. Let them ferry seasonal workers. Come on!
    Get A Clue! If you don't have to get to A anymore just stay on B.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Some due

      It's easy to make a comment like that when you've never been there. Just look at the map and you can see the plant is located in a protected harbor out of the severe weather. This harbor is basically located at the base of a mountain. You can't build a runway on the side of a mountain. The plant cannot be moved to the same island as the airport because it does not have a large enough harbor to protect all the fishing boats from the weather while moored. If it was really as simple as your 5 second analysis it would have happened already....GET A CLUE!

      September 28, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • BobJ

      OK, some due, but while you're doing your analysis did you bother to notice that Dutch Harbor is right next door? If they have to take a boat from Akutan to their shiny new airport, why don't the just turn left out of their protected harbor and motor over to Unalaska, which already has an airport with daily scheduled service.

      It's a bit more incovenient, but for 100 people it make sense, especially considering they want $14,000 per FOOT to build a short, straight piece of asphalt.

      September 28, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. The Dude

    Let the Corporation Pay for it. It is their factory, if they want it to run they can build it themselves.

    Enough of these corporate handouts!

    September 28, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rich

    It is time that our Federal Government says NO to such waste. Our elected Representatives are so wasteful with tax payers money and then they complain about the waste of money. Lets fires these elected officals that love to spent our money. Then they complain about Obama wasting money. What gives Congress?

    September 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JFWilder

    I think a buyout would be cheaper...get all 100 out of there and let the elk and bears take it back over like it should have been left in the first place.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Which is how it should be.. Dances with Wolves.. God made it hard to get to for a reason.. he dont want you there!

      September 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zenia Borenin

      nope don't have elk or bears here–never did–never will so get your facts straight–you need to go back to school. No caribou no deer nope so there!!!

      September 28, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Arguenot

    Anyone surprised? These projects are in every State. But the middle class is once again about to be pummeled! As if any party actually has OUR best interests at heart. Oh, yes, Government-Heart......my mistake, no connection. We shoud jsut suffer in silence.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. BobJ

    Another problem with this. Look at it on a map or Google Earth. Akutan is on the island next to where Dutch Harbor is located. Dutch Harbor is the location of Unalaska, the largest fishing port in the US by volume of fish caught. Unalaska already has a 3900' paved runway with daily air service (including 737 jets). It isn't that far from Akutan to Unalaska, and if the sea's too rough to make that trip then it's probably too rough to get across Akutan Straight anyway.

    The taxpayers need to build a $64 million runway to benefit a hundred or so residents when there's already a runway on the next island? They'll need to take a ferry to their new airport but can't take one to Unalaska where they can already catch a jetliner to Anchorage?

    This is a boondoogle intended to benefit some seafood corporations and to save the very well-off state of Alaska a ton of money by getting the rest of us to pay for it. Let the state that can write it's residents a check every year build the thing itself. I'd be willing to bet if they built it the thing could be built for under $10 million.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      yes but the seafood company bought cheaper land on the other isalnd.. and now they want the government to pay for their poor placement.

      September 28, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • noseawl

      Bob,

      You are correct about the proximity of Dutch to Akutan. However, take a closer look at the airport at Dutch. A 737 can land there, but they don't fly them there anymore because there is a very small margin of safety. The Coast Guard has even stopped landing their C130s there because the runway is too short. In addition, the strong wind comes out of the north. This mean an approach from the south, which requires a VERY steep descent from a location over the mountains. Turbulence is really bad and it is a white knuckle btt clenching landing. You can wait a week or more to get out of Dutch, all while paying $200 a night for a room.

      So, the question of why not close the Akutan plant and relocate to Dutch? One, Trident needs the cooperation of the Aleut people who live in the area. Close the plant and Akutan will cease to exist. This is one of only two remaining, high functioning Aleut villages left (the other is at Atka). Second, I think that Trident likes to be out of view in Akutan vs. Dutch so that they can operate things their way.

      Finally, the Aleutians need a good airport. Dutch really isn't it. In fact the Akutan airport would likely serve as a hub for Dutch with large planes landing there and making short hops with smaller aircraft. This is an FAA decision, not a pork project. They fund airport infrastructure all over the US.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  15. exUSMC_Corpsman

    Those WW II planes are still being made in North Carolina! They can buy parts as well.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
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