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. rene

    More wasteful spending: $7.2 million to relocate 400 Nene (Hawaiian geese) from one island to another this month because they are endangered. The first problem is why does this cost $18,000 per bird to relocate them 100 miles away? Second Problem: What's to keep the birds from flying back to their home on Kauai after relocation? I despise the TeaBaggers because they don't actually believe what they preach and use tax issues to hide their real agenda, but when I see waste like this, I also don't want to pay any more taxes until this reckless spending stops.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Gerald Farrow

    Our so called needed regulations will soon regulate the USA out of business.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vigla

      For goodness sake... This "regulations kill business" meme is annoying. Regulations are nowhere near that bad here. Please give it up already. No one is listening afte what we went through in 2001 and 2008.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richard

      Red states are still being economically discriminated against. What's the final cost of the "Big Dig" in Boston?

      September 29, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinks2010

      RICHARD–When you compare how much each states receives back per each $1 it pays in federal taxes you will find that the majority of states that receive back more than they paid in federal taxes while the majority of states that pay in federal taxes than they receive back are blue states. Alaska consistently ranks high on the list of states receiving more than they pay in. If any discrimination exists, it favors red states over blue states. Check out The Tax Foundation's website if you are interested in facts not fiction.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinks2010

      RICHARD–Sorry for the typo–I accidentally left out a couple of words in my first sentence. It should read:
      ". . . you will find that the majority of states that receive back more than they paid in federal taxes are red states . . ."

      September 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian Vandenberg

      Wait a second. Since when is six feet of water treacherous? Why doesn't the company just buy all the residents jet skis for ($10,000×100) $1,000,000 dollars?

      September 29, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Iowan

    I have a better idea. Move the entire community to a less remote location. If they don't want to move, they should have to face the consequences of choosing to live in such a remote area without services.

    September 29, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • shadysider

      That's how I see it. This project is helping 100 people? And the company that needs it only puts up 1 million of the 60-70 million needed? It seems to be done for the company's benefit only. Look at which politician(s) the company is donating funds to. That's who most fully supported the idea and who should get voted out as a consequence.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • me

      The company should just purchase the island and assume all of the maintenance and upkeep to perform work on the island.. they can rent people homes on the island as well.. if populations grow they can sell the island back to the state and let them assume the maintenance..

      September 29, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Shawn

    These people live in remote, wilderness areas in Alaska. They live in the middle of nowhere on choice, and I see NO reason why the US tax payers should shell out multi-millions in order to provide transportation to such a few amount of people. This is complete waste, and any government official involved in it needs to be tried as a traitor to the United States.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Shawn, as long as Republican Congressmen represent folks in remote districts like this, they will force these programs down America's throats, ignoring the need to maintain and improve the heavily traveled rail system in the Northeast Corridor. This is just like the airports in some states where they have less than 10 passengers a week, but still have regular daily (empty) flights – just in case!

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

      Harsh. Not entirely without merit, but harsh nonetheless. This is not much different from people who chose to live in a flood zone, and every other year buy new furniture on FEMA funds when they inevitably declare an emergency for the region. Tying the funds to a requirement that they relocate to a non-flood zone might help, but that's a political tar baby that nobody wants to touch. Extreme living conditions and federal subsidies are a trade off that allows them to support their traditions and historical way of life – not a threat to national security or violation of their elected office. Still, too much is too much, and on that I agree here.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Robin

    Our federal government does need to spend $59 Million dollars are this project. Not when so many people are out of jobs, the housing market is in worse shape than it has ever been (appraisals coming back lower than what people owe), and the economy is still at an all time low. Since most of Americans have had to cut back considerably, it's time for our government to cut back on ridulous spending.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • darren

      Where do you think that $59 million will go? Jobs to those who build the airstrip.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • me

      to build the airstrip? they could hire 50 immigrants to build it for 1 mill and still have money left over..

      September 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Steve

    I know what to do with it – let the guys building the 'model airplane drones' play there, LOL

    September 29, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Steve

    Then, again, Alaska 'gave' us dimwit Palin, so that about sums up the thought process on this runway

    September 29, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. swodog6289

    Another wonderful example of the government at work.

    Let them control our healthcare. Let them hand out to the needed. They know what is best for us and we should not question.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • me

      healthcare is needed.. roads on uninhabited island are not..

      September 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Big_D

    How much do you bet we are actually paying to get oil field workers to the job?

    September 29, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheAmericanWay

      That is oil industry workers to – numerous locations on a regualar basis.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. BossDaley

    How is improving passenger rail a waste and this is okay? Because it's in a Red state and Red lawmakers wanted it? Does that then tie it to proper Christian beliefs and make it okay by Jon and Joe Alaskan?

    Keep the beautiful landscapes and oil coming, Alaska

    September 29, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jim

    This seems more like a case of lobbyists from Trident Seafoods making a call to Congress to build an airstrip. If this a profitable investment then they should be making it. It's this kind of effective government handout to companies that motivate unfortunate comment's like Elizabeth Warren's:

    "You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.."

    September 29, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. richp

    Sounds like a good opportunity for one of the existing aircraft manufacturers to start producing decent multi engine seaplanes again.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. VC Jolin

    I live in Alaska and yes the villlages may need things like this BUT they choise to live remote so let them build their own .
    We need to stop programs that just take care of people,need to get back to basic and do your own taking care of....

    September 29, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Yuveth

    It's probably for some big company .. oil .. or other minerals 🙂 .. I would be willing to bet... that the airport will get built.. via tax payer money and the only one to really benefit from it .. is some big company. Nothing happens in the world unless a big company benefits from it .. don't you know that by now ?

    September 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      Maybe it's for Sarah's aerial moose and wolf shooting parties.

      September 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. blehh

    My car is getting old and expensive to maintain. Can the gov't buy me a new one? I don't want to move closer to where a work. A Bentley would be nice. If I keep it for 10 years, it'll only cost them 30K or so a year. Much less than me being unemployed.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      The government already did that on the cash for clunkers program. I sure bought a lot of illegal aliens new cars! I suddenly saw tons of them driving around town in brand new SUVs and pickups that they got for $4K off the sticker price. No one at the car dealerships was bothering to check on e-verify before the handouts were given out and the illegals were the only ones that actually had jobs to make car payments with! – Still another example of our (ex) middle class hard earned tax $$ at work!

      September 29, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
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