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. Jackson

    I blame Sarah Palin for this!!!

    September 28, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. EGB1

    Isn't Alaska supposed to be a cut-the-budget Tea Party haven? It's a pity that Akutanians are cut off from the rest of the world, but if that's a huge problem for them, they should move. That seems a lot simpler than spending tens of millions of dollars on pork like this.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mikepapa1

    Sell them the SPRUCE GOOSE it's only been used one time and is just setting up in Oregon not being used. It can hold 750 passengers.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. McGoo

    If you want to know why this is being done, like usual, follow the money. What construction company is being paid $64M to build a runway and who are they related to. Or who has their lobbyist been visiting the most. I suspect there's a fair amount of profit from a $64M government sponsored gig.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. C to the J

    You make it sound like these residents are frequent fliers.

    Obviously they aren't that worried about being close to an airport or they wouldn't live in Akutan, Alaska.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kristin

    I can see that building on Akun Island where no one seems to live would be easier and cheaper initially. The proposed site for the strip is relatively level, and shallow take off and landing paths are feasible. On the down side, there is no existing infrastructure to support the strip. A continuing expense would be required to ferry goods and people between the two Islands.

    Taking the long view it makes more sense to build on the other island, near Akutan. While initial expense would be greater due to steep hill sides there is no shortage of raw material for fill. No further transport services would be required.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Paul

    I'll just slip my measly $350,000 earmark for a polar bear nail salon deep down in the next legislation bill.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. asdf

    Wow I thought this Alaska taxpayer abuse would disappear with Ted Stevens.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jimatmad

    Typical red state Tea Partiers running around with their hands out, then complaining about Big Gummint spending.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      Thats it exactly..

      September 28, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Funky-face

    Solution: Sell Alaska already!! Almost no one lives there, so any money spent there will always be a waste in proportion to the population, no one wants to live there, and their exports to the other states is garbage (Palin). Sell the useless state – someone will pay something for it – which at the same time will eliminate wasteful projects there = win-win.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • tcp

      Do you REALLY want to "sell" this vast resource?...you are utterly clueless or (hopefully) joking.

      September 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • tcp

      And 141,000,000.00 to the rest of the states. That is JUST the subsidy...doesn't include operating costs, etc. CUT IT!

      September 28, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sue Zahnd

      Hmm...interesting comment...I live 1 1/2 miles from a glacier, mountains at my back door, ocean on one side...mountains on the other, and bears in the blueberry bushes around my house. Exotic views change daily, if not hourly. People come here to find work...and get it. We are "welcoming" in this diverse community. And, we would welcome you. And, for those who dismiss the villagers, AK Natives, who've been in those villages for thousands of years...???? They should just move???? I don't know if they need that runway in that place...but transportation here is vital for access to medical treatment, supplies, connection; etc. I hope they find a practical solution to their transportation issues. In the meantime, we have to explain to South-ers that love Palin that a lot of us would rather have smartness in our politicians:-)

      September 28, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alice

      people born and raised in Alaska and who have been living here get a permanet fund divedend check every Oct and I have seen in past years lower 48 people coming up just to get a check -–thanks to the Alaska pipeline wooohooo

      October 1, 2011 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
  11. panam47

    Did Pallin just say no to this? Probably not.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. She.

    They don't want to use Amphibians dont need runways.. eh? if they had an airport with a big runway they wouldnt need amphibians.. and so the cost of transporting goods and humans would be cheaper.. so the busineses want the govt to pay for the airport and runway so their transportation costs will be cheaper.. Another grand example of "Corporate Welfare" eh..

    September 28, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.

      just get the damn amphibian aircraft and build a small amphibian airport.. get a couple of them.. run more frequent flights.. as the usage of the airport increases you can expand your runway operation....

      You know Glacier International Airport in Kalispell Montana only has 1 runway too.. Im sure that was a speck to begin with as well..

      September 28, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • She.


      September 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. tcp

    Ten million in annual federal (you and me) subsidies to Alaska alone for the Essential Air Service Program.

    September 28, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. midwestrngrl

    what do you want to bet that Trident Seafoods had a behind the scenes push for this?

    September 28, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Karen

      Midwestrngrl if you had read the article you can plainly see that Trident Seafoods isn't behind the scenes...

      September 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. government is broken

    Follow the money. It dosent have to make sense. Follow the money

    September 28, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
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