The late Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens, famous for the unbuilt “bridge to nowhere,” is reaching out from the grave. To get the remote Alaskan airport ball rolling, he hid $3.5 million into a Senate spending bill in 2007 to help finance an airport to serve Akutan, Alaska, from Akun Island, six miles away.
Fast forward to today. Senator Stevens, even though dead, is still at it. Though only a fraction of the cost of the “bridge to nowhere,” an airport for the village of Akutan, Alaska, is planned. In a very remote location in Alaska, 66 million of your tax dollars are building an airport. The airport is located on Akun Island, an uninhabited island in the Aleutian Island chain between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. It is being built to serve the village of Akutan, AK, population: less than 100 permanent residents, that is located six miles away. Current plans call for a $13 million hovercraft to take passengers to and from the airport that is located on Akun Island, not on Akutan Island where the village is located. A British built BHT-130 hovercraft is proposed for transportation between the airport on Akun Island and Akutan. But officials say that the hovercraft solution may not work (see below), so the airport would be accessible only by helicopter.
For information about the airport, please watch this 4:22 video.
The largest beneficiary of the airport will be Trident Seafoods Corp., which operates one of the world’s largest seafood processing plants in Akutan. Trident seafood processing plant employees, about 1000 of them, swell Akutan’s population twice each year. Trident is chipping in $1 million for the airport. Currently, the only way in or out of Akutan via air is by way of a seaplane base that serves the city and Trident employees shuttling to and from work during peak months. Akutan is serviced by 11 weekly flights on World War II-era Grumman Goose amphibious aircraft, operated by Peninsula Air. The Goose is getting harder and more expensive to maintain, says PenAir’s Bryan Carricaburu. BTW, Trident CEO Charles Bundrant has been a big contributor to the Alaskan Republican party.
Akutan is building a $31 million harbor, with most of the money coming from the 2009 federal stimulus package (ARRA). Congress decided to fund the project because Akutan does not have any protected waters for boats to moor.
The hovercraft proposed to serve the Akutan airport is the same BHT-130 model used by the towns of Cold Bay and King Cove, located on an island about 100 miles (160 km) east of Akutan Island. The existing hovercraft was supposed to provide access between King Cove and Cold Bay, which has a paved airstrip, and can provide medical evacuation services. A press release by the Aleutians East Borough, in which Akutan, Cold Bay, and King Cove are located, said, “The commercial hovercraft, owned and operated by the Aleutians East Borough, is temporarily out of service. The Borough winterized (and suspended operation of) the craft last fall due to its unreliability during the winter months, low ridership and huge operating expenses. The Borough hopes to resume service at some point this spring.” But the service resumption did not occur. As of mid-September, 2010, the hovercraft remained out of service.
Said Aleutians East Borough Administrator Sharon Boyette about the hovercraft, ” … It didn’t do as well as we were told it would perform in high winds and rough seas.” Where the manufacturer says that the hovercraft can handle 10 foot seas, Boyette estimated the hovercraft would be hard-pressed to operate in six-foot seas. And if the wind was blowing at more than 30 mph the hovercraft would often be down.
So, even though Senator Ted Stevens was a Republican (RINO), his earmarks waste taxpayer money. And this airport fiasco is (unfortunately) not the only example. But, the airport project is creating jobs, so President Obama should be happy.