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. DCM

    What is government for, if not to provide common use facilities like air ports?

    September 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bob L

    Cut all subsidies to rural airports and let them figure it out. I'm tired of all these rural areas getting massive subsidies expecting the urban areas to effectively pay for it, and then voting in Representatives that try to cut everything else.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hussein Barack Moslemo

      Close the rural villages if they are not able to sustain themselves. Isnt washington dc another rurla village? hmmmmm.

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

      No, Washington is not a rural village. Be smarter.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • kennesaw dan

      i think we should start building my timemachines and fishing boats – who's with me

      September 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • LV

      I agree; states need to figure out whether or not it is worth it to run high-speed internet, pay for daily plane flights with nobody on them, or runways in oblivion. To add fuel to the fire: did you know that the FAA picks up the tab for all those tiny airports around the country which truly only provide hangar space and cheap landing fees for rich plane owners? now you do.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • LV

      Here's an idea for you - How about we just send all of the US Territories packing? Make them instantly independent. Just PR, that's gotta be a 100B a year we just throw away.........

      September 29, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ted

    Sarah Palin's fault. plain and simple.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hikingalaska3739

      Yes, How dare Sarah palin establish the essential air service act in 1978 when she was still around middle school/high school age. What supreme gall! Pure diabolical genius on her part! It is going to take jack Bauer AND James bond to nip this nefarious plot in the bud!

      September 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. brett

    why shouldn't this be alaskas problem not the feds?

    September 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      I asked myself that same question after 9-11. Why should fed dollars be used...it didn't happen in Topeka.

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

      I think Alaska is the only state with a negative income tax; you get a check every year for living there because of oil revenue. So, why is there even one dime of federal money going there for any project, ever?

      September 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cranky

    Cool ... now I can fly in, and I can see "Roosha" ...

    September 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      and watch Moose Mate

      September 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Big_D

    I would rather have more services in the lower 48. How about they hire a private service and stop handing the cost down to us. Alaska is a welfare state and they don't want to pay taxes, what a joke! CUT THEM OFF AND END THE HANDOUTS!!! They have plenty of money with their petroleum and minerals to pay their own bills.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Big_D

    Why do these folks get our dime when everyone else has to hire a bush pilot?

    September 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Southern Yank

    This is nuts. For the same money, a fleet of nearly 30 brand new DHC-6 Series 400 Twin Otter floatplanes could be purchased!! Let's buy them 10 and use the rest of the money to build a school.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big_D

      Good solution there Yank!

      September 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • tim

      Slight problem with twin otters. They can't land in the seas this area gets. You need a goose or similar plane as the floats just don't cut it.

      September 29, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Big_D

    Alaska the home of Tea Party Palin takes over two dollars back for every tax dollar paid and they don't want to pay taxes. We can cut them off.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hussein Barack Moslemo

      I'd rather cut off Texas and all politicians form texas. They have the oil money yet want more federal money. A bunch of whining fakers. Big hat = small brain.

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

      And we'll cut off your oil and seafood

      September 29, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Navy Mike

    Didn't the citizens of Alaska all just receive a check for about $1000 from oil revenues? So, if the state is doing so well why is it borrowing from the Fed?

    September 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alaskan

      Because we pay federal taxes...

      September 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tekpilot

      It paid a month and a half of heating cost out of a 7 month winter.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tekpilot

    How about we as Alaskans charge the federal government 10 bucks an acre for rent of land designated Parks. ANWR is 19 million Acres and if it were a state it would be larger then 10 other states. At 10 bucks an acre per month it would run the Federal government 2.28 Billion a year and thats just one of the parks. Federal funding in 2009 for Alaska was 9.6 Billion dollars. estimated Oil reserves in ANWR are 17 billion barrels that we cannot touch. Who pays for that? We do, with no development, increased Federal regulations, and people planning on retiring somewhere else. Build the Airport and we wont charge you for rent.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sildenafil

      While you're at it, how about charging the feds rent for the Grand Canyon. Or the 2000 other federal parks. While we're at it, how about those blasted military bases taking up so much land. Are you for real? You don't pay a dime for ANWR. No development – nothing. Increased regulations – nothing. People planning on retiring somewhere else – they are retired, not working, how does that impact ANWR?

      September 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • wkleer

      Seriously? Every state has land deemed "parks," get used to it. Besides, you are not Alaskans, you are Americans. Your choice. No one made you become a state.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Navy Mike

      How did that subsidy check taste? There's your rent.......what a joke!

      September 29, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tekpilot

      Furthermore there is a total of 104 million acres under Federal control in the form of refuges, forests and parks while the state has yet to receive its full measure of lands. I say your all correct. Get your stuff and get out of Alaska. We will do it ourselves.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Kimo

    Where's the Tea Party when you need them? Come on Sarah. Get up there and get down on government waste.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marko

      Funny. Remember folks, it's Sarah's running mate who runs the ship after she bailed out before finishing her term.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Peter

    Please let just relocate the whole population of Alaska. It should fit in one of the shuburbs of Conneticut or Rhode Island. This will help us to preserve the pristine beauty of Alaska.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alaskan

      We are up there or a reason...to be as far away from people like you as possible.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alaskan

      Thats "for" btw

      September 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Candace

    Crony Socialism: Obama Gives $737 Million to Solar Firm Linked to the Pelosi Clan

    September 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Alan

    Like the so-called "bridge to no where," it seems that any project destined for rural communities is always condemned as wasteful. I guess in a perfect world, projects should only benefit the 10 most populous states? Heck, why give us federal funds for highways here in Montana? If you price that out we get a disproportionate share per taxpayer resident. I know. It's our fault for having too few people in the nation's fourth largest state. When the roads crumble back to dust we can always go back to the horse. How about those federal hydo projects? Couldn't a lot of money have been saved by leaving the farms with kerosine lamps?

    September 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tekpilot

      I'm with you. Lets go back to the horse and buggy. Everyone. Not just us. We do not want to live in the asphalt jungle that most of America calls home Yet we will surivive without, where they cannot. In a country where equal treatment under the law is guaranteed I wonder how that will look. Shut off the electricty and I light a candle and put another log on the fire. The rest of the world would be in panic mode.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
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