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. Lm

    Why should federal dollars be used for this at all? Alaska continues to be THE #1 welfare state in the nation as far as federal funds goes. At the same time, they not only have no income tax, but instead distribute royalties to all their citizens. How about using some of those royalties to fund these projects, or do like many other states do, implement an income tax.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Absolutely. Sarah Palin needs to take her anti-big government campaign to her own state. The people living on these islands can suffer the consequences of that choice or join the rest of us in civilization. I'm tired of subsidizing lifestyle choices made by selfish people. Let them live there, at their own cost.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Hugh

    Consider that Alaskans tend to boast about their independence. Even threatening to succeed. Well, if you check the facts, you'll see that per capita, Alaska receives the greatest amount of Federal money. They receive far more from the government, than they send to the government. The most of any state. So I celebrate independence. But not when they are actually dependant.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. trashcup

    Must be another PALIN idiotic request from when she was Governor. Let's see if the Republicans CUT the funding for this stupid idea and start to pay for some hurricane, tornado and flooding rebuilds – where the money is ACTUALLY needed and not wasted.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rob

    How come Alaska has all of these ridiculous projects? Isn't this the state of Palin and a consistently Republican voting state?
    If Republicans are so much better at managing a lean efficient government, then why do all of these idiotic projects come from a right-wing Republican state?


    September 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Indigo

      Cuz they don't pay for it.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bubba Nicholson


    September 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Eric

    64 mil does sound high but at the same time...construction costs are what they are. Starting with the location. Perhaps the 64 mil includes the transportation of the construction workers (union I would wager), living expenses, etc....plus the transportation of all materials. There are a thousand and one things to consider but the most important is the time constraint in getting the job done. Up there, you have a very short season to build anything.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Nancy

    Instead of wasting tax payers money for a runway for no one, the government should use their common sense and fund for repairs on bridges across america.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Binky42

    Palin 2012!! Whoo Hooo! Let's create jobs by building runways.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DeportTheTeaParty

    I blame Obama for this wasted money. I also blame him for the performance of the hovercraft that was "proven unreliable under similar conditions elsewhere in Alaska".

    As our president, he should clearly be a finer engineer.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tony

    The only way to stop this nonsense is to STOP PAYING TAXES.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. peter

    Let Alaska pay for it! Oil profits and subsidies to the Alaskan population in the form of Oil Payments. I can see how Sarah Payless got elected. Everyone up there is an inbred idiot!

    September 28, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • peri

      you are such an idiot

      September 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pepsi Danae

      Peri's half right, I'm pretty sure English are quite idiotic as well.

      December 11, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. peter

    Bomb the Palins into oblivion!

    September 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • pbj

      this is one thing i can agree with you sarah means nothing to us in alaska she is a QUITTER

      September 28, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Butchie67

    This response is to Duffy’s post however it is not just leveled at Duffy but each and everyone in the lower 48. KNOW THIS the state compact (that is the same as a contract) mandates that 90% of moneys derived from Alaska’s vast mineral reserves (natural resources) go to the state with 10% going to the feds. Moreover the development of said mineral reserves would not be impeded by undue federal regulations. The reason for this is all the lower 48 congressmen and senators were afraid that Alaska would become a drag on the social welfare system that those boys have grown to love. So, by allowing Alaska to develop its natural resources and keeping 90% of the money, Alaska could pay its own way.

    Alaska has fought the feds on all fronts ever since. The feds have reneged on the 90/10 split. They; through the environmental lobby; have blocked all attempts to develop our vast oil and gas reserves and most other natural resources. The oil at Prudhoe Bay was discovered in 1968. The oil companies started buying 48” pipe in 1969. It wasn’t until 13Nov73 that the bill, called Trans-Alaska Authorization Act cleared the senate (it was passed by the house the day before). On 16Sep73 then President Nixon signed it into law.

    So, here’s the juice, things in Alaska cost more than outside. There are fewer people per square mile than in Montana. This means that the cost per capita is going to be out of all proportion when compared to lower 48 norms. All you people in the lower 48 who don’t like the amount of money the feds provide to Alaska please write your congressional delegation and tell them to honor the statehood compact and Alaska will take care of itself! Thank you for your continued support.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Lots of big statements here but not much to back it up except to list a timeline to buy pipe and start building a pipeline, which has nothing to do with a 90/10 monetary split.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alaskan as well

      The sad part is he's 100% right its the reason Alaska considered leaving the Union in the 80's and has been sueing over this issue to this day.

      September 28, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. DriftSS

    How about we drill more oil and pay for it with that?? Or better yet, pay to move these 100 inhabitants to somewhere habitable...problem solved!

    September 28, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ed

    The other neighboring island of Unalaska has an airport. There is also seasonal ferry service between the two islands with a running time of 3 1/2 hours. It seems that improving the connection between Unalaska and Akutan could be done for a lesser cost and reducing the amount of infrastructure that will need to be maintained.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
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