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. Tuckersdad

    Independent Audit. Term Limits. Informed, Independent Press.Alert Voters.

    September 29, 2011 at 6:46 am | Report abuse |
    • caw

      Alert Voters? That made me laugh. Have you seen a cross sampling of the US population?

      September 29, 2011 at 7:53 am | Report abuse |
  2. truthbeknown

    Trident seafoods 2009 revenue – 1.25 BILLION

    September 29, 2011 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Nac

      This is corporate welfare.

      September 29, 2011 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
  3. jon wyatt

    Consider that project scratched!! In this economy who needs it !!

    September 29, 2011 at 6:58 am | Report abuse |
  4. Vermonster

    Sounds like Amtrack. Uncle Sam needs something to spend money on so that the cash doesn't stop flowing.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
  5. itp

    No way in this economy????

    September 29, 2011 at 7:14 am | Report abuse |
  6. demonfeed

    Who comes up with this crap? If I had a hovercraft, I for damned sure wouldn't be using it to get to an island in Alaska. We are screwed if this is supposed to "help" anyone.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. kicknbacknthnkn

    can ANYone stop this run-a-way government we've created? Have ANY of you that toop the time to post actually taken the time to write your congressmen? I have and I encourage you to.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
  8. BigAl

    you live in the middle of no where and want an airport? too bad, move.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. MIKE

    Just another shinning example of our government at work.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:34 am | Report abuse |
  10. Fox Mulder

    What is this I don't even

    September 29, 2011 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
  11. Peter

    Where is Sarah Palin on this one...please save us...I know..I know..but you can see russia from here too..please stop the insanity in your own state before you start talking about the current administration...

    September 29, 2011 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
  12. cleat

    comon- the people that live there CHOOSE to live there...they know what infrastructure is there, and how it affects them daily. what a waste. A solution looking for a problem.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
  13. Keith

    seems like it would be cheaper to just... move the entire village to the island with the airport

    September 29, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  14. Dave

    Need to get rid of the airport plan and the politicians responsible – oops, that's pretty much all of them except Ron Paul I think.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  15. Guest

    This is Ted Steven's final gift to his biggest corporate gift-givers–Chuck Bundrant of Trident Seafoods and Jim Jansen of Lynden, Inc and the 32 companies under his (Jansen's) purview in Alaska.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
    • GG

      It's almost as pathetic as John Murtha's airport for no one at a cost of more than twice what they want for this one.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
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