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. Ellen in CA

    That is one very generous earmark for the seafood company! Then they blame social programs for the budget problems. Shame on the congress for trying to shift blame where it does not belong.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  2. heather

    Everyone is for relocation, but some people might be indiginious native alaskans. they have no rights though because they should be just thrown wherever we want them to go. watch all the tighty-righties climb on this. chuckle!

    September 29, 2011 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Alice

      I love our Haters ....LIsten, I live here, i grew up here. only if u had an idea how isolated we can be because of the weather. our community is growing because of the airport and its giving us more job oppritunities aswell. Come stay here for a week and when ur scheduled to leave one day an cant leave up to 2 weeks...let me know

      October 1, 2011 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
  3. swan

    For all these "we do it better at the State level" types, I am increasingly of the view that the first act of the White House to get the spending mess in line is to simply tell the States they have to reduce federal spending in their state to not more than 90% of Federal tax receipts.

    Then all these blow hards like Lindsay Graham, Jim DeMint and the Alaska crowd would have some real work to do before they can bleat about the excess of Federal Spending.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • greg

      Yep, and California would be belly up.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • swan

      No, Actually California only get $0.79 in spending for every dollar collected. Here is the data – BTW this si a conservative group that saw the trend and stopped publishing the data when they found their base was pretty guilty (VA, SC, MS, AL, AK). Pretty good data for conversation


      September 29, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. frankbear

    No wonder we are broke! Obama should be all over this and all the other wasteful dollars......i do agree that there are legitimate projects that are needed and jobs would be plentiful but this is pretty obvious waste of taxpayers monies!

    September 29, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  5. Rich

    The obvious solution to this problem is massive tax cuts for the super rich.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Good one!

      September 29, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      How can we cut it below 0%? I guess we could give them some kind of EIC as a way of saying "Thank you for being so fabulously wealthy!"

      September 29, 2011 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. Paul

    So basically, we are building a runway so a seasonal business in Alaska can employ 1000 people part of the year?

    September 29, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. Aaron

    Find out which campaigns Trident Seafoods contributed to and you'll know how they got a $67 million dollar airport to shuttle their employees around for the bargain price of $1 million dollars.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  8. Outrageous

    Perhaps there is a bigger plan that we do not know about? Perhaps this might be for some security reason!
    This article seems to have been written to get people
    Up in arms as usual.
    By the media. Do not believe everything you read!
    We are nearing the end of the week so someone here is meeting their quota.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  9. Schrund

    I've been to Akutan, having taken both the Goose (WWII aircraft) as well as by boat. There's no cost effective way to solve the "how to get to akutan" conundrum. If the engineers say this is the best option then I am in no position to disagree. Yes it's expensive, but's that's what it is.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • swan

      Maybe the issue is that there should be no mandate to get there.....

      September 29, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  10. tshirtman

    Hey Chicago spent 1 Billion dollars on a 2 mile runway at the airport on land they already own.
    They still need 8 billion more to finish the project. Oh, didn't Obama come from Chicago. Spend, spend and spend, the taxpayers have deep pockets.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • mjj

      That plan was in the works way before Obama became president. Find out the facts before you speak – it's so refreshing!

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

    Anyone need more proof that our government is completely inept?

    September 29, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  12. Scott

    Sounds like the good people at Trident Seafoods should fund whatever means of transportation that they require. The 100 year-round residents can choose to get to and from the island however they please!

    September 29, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  13. swan

    Here is a link to a great report on the ration of Federal Spending to Federal tax collections by state. It was compiled by a conservative think tank, but they stopped collecting the data in 2004. When you look at the table it becomes blindingly clear why they stopped. With some notable exceptions (WV), most of the States that get more spedning than they collect are what we think of as conservative maybe even Tea Party center (SC/AK)


    September 29, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      This is a VERY interesting chart! I guess one could argue that some of the states with the highest burden ratios are those with low populations, but still......

      September 29, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  14. hill

    32 mil on project....32 mil in someone's pocket. Simple.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  15. Navyvet8192

    How many thousands per year does every Alaskan get for oil revenues just because they are Alaskans? If we can pay them for just being themselves, then the state can dip into that money to fund this type of thing! Get your dam* hand out of my pocket already!

    September 29, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
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