Alaska Gets a Harbor and an Airport to Nowhere

by Patrick Brennan

The Anchorage Daily News reports:

Akutan, the Aleutians community with a brand new but so-far unused airport on another island, also has a new harbor but no road connecting it to the town 2 miles away. KUCB reports the harbor was begun by the Army Corps of Engineers with $29 million in federal stimulus money even though the connecting road was likely years in the future. 

For now, the harbor is mostly just a big hole in the ground. While the construction team has finished its work, there’s still no electricity, no running water, and no floats. There’s also no road from the village, which is two miles away, so the only way to access the boat harbor is by boat. That means the harbor is cut off from the village’s grocery store, post office and fuel dock.

Steve Boardman is head of the Army Corps of Engineers’ civil projects division. He says transportation situation is unusual. “Yes. It’s not normal. . . .” Boardman says the Corps made an exception in this case because of the harbor’s strategic importance.

Is it not, though? Akutan already has another piece of insular infrastructure, too:

The Aleutian Island village of Akutan has a new $75.5 million airport — on an island six miles across the water. Passengers will take a $100 hovercraft ride over the Bering Sea to catch their planes.

But the new airport has no planes, or at least no scheduled air service. . . .

Akutan, 766 miles southwest of Anchorage, has a year-round population of 75. But more than 1,000 seasonal employees work at the Trident Seafood fish-processing plant, described as the largest such facility in North America.

For years, air service was provided by PenAir. The small Alaska airline used a World War II-era Grumman Goose, an amphibious aircraft, to land in the harbor and taxi up a ramp on the shore of the town. The age and operational costs of that airplane led officials to start planning a new land airport in 1999.

Trident Seafood paid $1 million toward the airport, according to CNN. There’s a lovely PowerPoint here from the Alaska DOT about the airport project, and here’s a picturesque view of the harbor:

The island airport still doesn’t have air service or even a mail plane, but one carrier is already amenable to obscure Aleut routes, so long as the federal government sweetens the proverbial crab pot:

Anchorage-based Grant has already taken over other Aleutian routes relinquished by PenAir. In an Oct. 10 filing with the DOT, the company proposed 12 flights per week at a cost to the government of between $811,316.73 and $1,123,310.74.

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