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. Tim

    The oil companies will be drilling here.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  2. fidgetwidget

    What? You're just catching on to this trend? Runways to Nowhere are located all over the US, not just Alaska. Same with bridges, roads, etc.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
  3. JackT

    Then, DON'T LIVE THERE!!!!

    Why are my tax dollars used to build a runway on PERMAFROST????
    And, at a cost to FEDERAL Taxpayers of $59 MILLION dollars, the article does not mention how many inhatibants this would serve? What, 100, 200, 300?

    This is STILL an example of runaway Government spending.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • DC603

      Actually, it does mention how many residents the runway would serve.

      Between 100 in the off months to 1000 in the busy months.

      COMPLETE waste of money.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
  4. Justen beiber

    I can see Russia from my house.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  5. mc

    You too can get a bridge or an airport built by corrupt politicians. You just need to make a large donation. Our politicians should be jailed! They are traitors.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  6. cory bricco

    I bet people said the same thing hundreds of years ago when Europe was sinking money into that "new world" landmass across the atlantic, it'll never work they said....

    September 29, 2011 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
    • mc

      Are you a government contractor or a politician... or one of the 100 residents of this town... or do you sell hovercrafts?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
    • DC603

      Seriously? We're not talking about a 'New World.' We're talking about a remote island with between 100-1000 inhabitants.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
  7. mc

    They will have $16 muffins at the airport lounge, but the federal government will defray the costs by paying for $15 of every muffin.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
  8. TomNPitt

    How can this article have such a tongue in cheek air to it. Like, "Those Alaskan's – such a fun bunch of people".
    We're firing Teachers,Policemen and Firemen by the thousands. Looking at cutting Social Security and Medicaire – benefits people pay into their whole lives. Talk of turning these peograms over to the private sector because they'll do such a better job of handling it. Where's the private sector on this project? This benefits one company, and they contribute just over one percent of the costs, and reap ninety-nine percent of the benefit.
    Again – money talks and middle Americans pay for the rich to walk.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  9. Cartodude

    Another fine example of corporate welfare... let Trident Seafoods pick up the cost since they are the ones increasing the population each summer from 100 to 1000...

    September 29, 2011 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
  10. mfb

    granted, this is probably a waste of tax payer dollars at a time when such waste is unconscionable. in reality, though, bus service in a lot of metropolitan areas is also heavily subsidized by local governments. in my area (with a service area population in the neighborhood of about 200,000), the city bus service operational cost is $7 for every one dollar collected in fares.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
  11. GatorALLin

    Get them Free tickets on the Epic Fail Boat to nowhere! please cancel these projects

    September 29, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  12. cel

    HMMM ?? Secret military bases in Alaska, perhaps ? Protecting us from Sarah Palin, perhaps ? We can only hope.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
  13. Scott

    My God. Bush has been gone for almost 3 years. Give it up. Move on.
    If you knew anything you would know that decisions like this aren't made typically by the Whitehouse. They are made by government bureaucrats. It's not Obama's fault. It's not Bush's fault. Please see a shrink. It's obvious, after 3 years, your Bush derangement syndrome has not subsided.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  14. Brent Clay

    Wonder if there is another location where the processing plant can be relocated – some larger, neighboring island where there is already a suitable marine port and airport?

    September 29, 2011 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
  15. Rob

    If Alaska gives money back to its citizens, why not lower that and use those funds to fund it... why should my money go to Alaska... Wait?!?! Isn't Sarah Palin From Alaska? She's rich!! Let her pay!!!

    September 29, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
    • muleskinner527

      most idiots like you think the rich should pay for everthing the rest of us want.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Philip

      The first part of your statement was good. The second pert of your statement just proves you are a dumb demo-c-Rat.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Madarain

      Your reply is a stupid comment typical of morons like you. You assume they need they the airport just because they want the airport. You assume alaskans should be taxed more, because you're a liberal, and you assume a particular private citizens name (that you can remember how to spell) ought to be dragged out because it show's how witty you are. Who put the internet access in your playpen?

      September 29, 2011 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Louisiana Man

      Where O where is the OUTCRY and denunciation of wasteful government spending from the hypocritical republicans.
      This is palin's 'conservative',' self reliance' rallying cry from her cronies, isn't it? H Y P O C R I T E S

      September 29, 2011 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
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