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. JB

    The state of Alaska has money to burn while most of the other states are upside-down. Why are the feds funding this, it's clearly for the state's benefit, and of course Trident Seafoods. Just another example of wasteful federal spending.

    There are companies making NEW sea planes, for $64mil they could buy a whole fleet of them with maintenance included!

    September 29, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Deborah

    Vote out all politicians who have held office for more than eight years! Term limits imposed by the electorate will be a good start to change all of this b.s.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • ccastine

      educated voters is how we changes this mess. everybody thought they were doing the right thing in 2010 and they just voted in a bunch of morons. that doesn't help. educate yourself on facts, not rhetoric, and make better decisions.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Gretchen

    Why don't they just move the seafood plant instead??????

    September 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheBlogNinja

      Haha you've apparently never worked for the US government. If you had, you'd realize that your suggestion makes too much sense, and should therefore be a last resort to consider.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • ccastine

      actually, it makes no freakin sense if you know anything about seafood and how it needs to be treated from the time its caught until it hits your dinner table.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Norm

      Ok...so if this all just for the seafood plant and I'm paying for it, do I get free seafood for the rest of my life?
      Didn't think so.
      That company is paying a million dollars to bribe public officials, not to help pay for the runway.
      This is a no brainer folks.
      Like most stories out of Alaska.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. QuietStormX

    I don't have a problem with this... It's more efficient and cheaper plus safer than using the WWII aircraft or a ferry on the rough seas. So it needed to be done. That's it.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bambam

      Let me get this right, you don't mind the government using YOUR money to pay for this remote runway in Alaska? What, are you an Eskimo?

      September 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • ccastine

      i don't mind. i am much more concerned about not building it than building it.

      September 29, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Anon

    Why not just buy some newer float planes? The best of them all, the twin otter, is now back in production.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Darwin was right

    Hey! We have 11 NUCLEAR POWERED AIRCRAFT CARRIERS that cost about 10 BILLION each and are sitting around with the important missions of deterring 1) CUBA from invading Florida 2) Argentina from trying to invade the Falklands again 3) Vietnam from invading California (remember when the war-hawks used to tell us we had to die in Vietnam to keep from dying in California? 4) Al Qaeda from taking over the Atlantic ocean, etc. etc. Why not use just ONE aircraft carrier to ferry the employees back and forth to Anchorage – then no need for an airport!

    September 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • ccastine

      thats just....ridiculous...

      September 29, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |

      why not just connect all the aircraft carriers together and build a different kind of bridge....now we're talking!....

      September 29, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      If Darwin was right, you won't be around long and your line won't be continuing.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leowa

      The aircraft carrier are to secure the safety of everyone. So let's do the math. At 10 billion each and with 250 million in this country that comes out to $ 400 / person for our safety. The airport is 64 million for 100 permanent residents. That's $ 64,000 per person to help a single company. Lets be honest with ourselves this is nothing but politics, no different that building another country club.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sildenafil

      Jim – Darwin wasn't right. Watch Idiocracy, you'll understand his comment, along with the hundreds of other posts here that some third graders know are ridiculous. Hilarious movie.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Shane

    The problem is the EASP (Essential Air Service Program). When the villagers settled on this little island, they more than likely did it by boat, prior to any higher-speed transportation such as airplanes. The EASP is a federal program that prevents states and the FAA from shutting down these little airports, regardless of cost and need. It requires the government to subsidize and maintain them. It's a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money. It's happening all over the country, and airlines are losing millions of dollars because of it. The FAA requires at least one airline to fly out of these little airports, regardless how much it costs them.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. hippediva

    It's a poop slide for all the crap that comes out of the ex-gov's mouth.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. NipponReptilian

    This airport is needed for building some more DUMBs in Alaska.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. steve

    Even if saving the entire $700,000 annually, it would take 91 years to break even on $64 million. Replace the WWII w/ something built today, or commission such a plane – it would be cheaper and provide high tech jobs in design & aircraft construction, plus be more flexible since plane can service other islands too.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. MIke T

    It's time for Ron Paul. Let's stop all this waste.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. rikers

    Will government people never learn? Probably not.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. 32

    If palin is president everybody will get their own personal runway

    September 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jason

    This needs not to be built. If the largest seafood processing planet operates here and they need a runway, they need to figure out how to make this happen and pay for it. No tax dollars should be used.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. qwerty

    heres an idea, instead of building runways for everything get a helicopter

    September 29, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
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