Akutan Builds Harbor First, Access Later

Wednesday, November 14 2012

Akutan Small Boat Harbor/Credit: Stephanie Joyce

While Akutan’s new airport has received considerable attention and scrutiny for being expensive and hard to access, another large infrastructure project on the island that suffers some of the same problems has mostly flown under the radar.

Over the last two years, Knik Construction has converted what was once a flat stretch of tundra at the end of Akutan Bay into a full-size boat harbor.

"We've excavated almost a million cubic yards of material," says project manager Craig Bauld. 

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. And it has prevented the construction of harbors in the past, when that supporting infrastructure is not there.”

Boardman says the Corps made an exception in this case because of the harbor’s strategic importance.

“Akutan is one of the major ports [in the country] - and I use the word port kind of liberally, because there was no port structure there until now - and Trident Seafoods is the largest seafood processor in the Aleutians. So you have this very large fleet, handling very large fisheries, and there was no facilities for them.”

Boardman adds that it helped that the project was ‘shovel-ready’ when $29 million of federal stimulus money became available in 2009.

“And in this particular case, we knew a road was being contemplated," Boardman says.

The road is still being contemplated, but construction is at least a few years out. Every foot of the road will need to be blasted from the steep cliffs ringing Akutan Bay. That requires permits and money - lots of it. 

“Our first estimate was at $18.1 million," says Jacob Stepetin, the administrator for Akutan Traditional Council, the group responsible for the road project. "But that was when we first planned it. It’s been two years now, so you know that’s going up.”

That’s $11 million per mile. Stepetin says the Council has petitioned the state government, the federal government, and Trident Seafoods for money, but so far, there aren’t any hard commitments.

The road isn’t the only challenge ahead for Akutan’s harbor. On top of the access problem and lack of services, once the harbor opens, there’s no guarantee there will be enough boats to fill the harbor’s 58 slips. But there will be at least five - that’s the number of boats owned by locals.

“I personally own half a vessel," says Akutan mayor Joseph Bereskin. "And I want to get my own  vessel, so this is going to give me that opportunity and I think eventually other individuals will get into the fisheries as well, and this harbor is just a piece of that puzzle."

The hope is that Trident’s fleet will fill the gap between the local boats and the harbor’s capacity. At any given time, the company has up to 30 boats delivering fish to its Akutan processing plant. Right now, Trident rotates its boats through other ports in the region when they’re not fishing, but plant manager Dave Abbasian says that could change once the harbor is finished -- and he’s not terribly worried about the lack of infrastructure.

“As with anything else, when you build something, then everything starts collecting around it, building around it.”

For now, the only structure of any kind near the harbor is a maintenance hangar for the hovercraft that ferries passengers between the village of Akutan and the new airport on Akun island. The hovercraft hasn’t received a lot of positive press, but it may turn out to be the solution for the boat harbor’s accessibility problems. The Aleutians East Borough says it will consider using the hovercraft as a shuttle between the harbor and the village while a road is under construction. Or alternatively, boaters can just keep a boat in their boat.

Babak Orujov on Monday, February 03 2014:

I love Akutan so much. I worked for Trident Seafoods there in June 2011 - October 2011. Good luck to all!!!
Love you AKUTAN 99553. <3

Thomas E. Shafovaloff on Tuesday, December 04 2012:

Looks like a great place to base a seaplane service. Anyone else who thinks so please drop me a "message." There is a lot of activity that will be taking place in the "North" which is ramping up now. Looks like a fun place to be. Kind of reminds me of a remote Naval station in Greenland. Would like to try out the runway though. Will check the aviation services for more information. Is seaplane landing facility planned by FAA?

Thomas Shafovaloff

Beth Gordon on Sunday, November 25 2012:

Don't panic....just pray for God's Wisdom for our Government to realize whose agenda we are carrying out.

David McElroy on Saturday, November 24 2012:

Jeff (on Saturday) was not thinking clearly. I lived in an Alaskan fishing village. Forcing the remote tiny villages to relocate into larger cities pursuing economy of scale seems good to bureaucrats and fascist collectivists. But Alaska is a vast land about half the size of the lower 48 states. Having people spread across the land is good, as someone should be tending business all across Alaska. Alaska is rich in resources, but poor in infrastructure. It is expensive to develop in such remote areas, but it will be establishing means for a profitable future, just as it was in the "Wild West".

Jiminlittleton on Saturday, November 24 2012:

For "Jeff" and others, whom have never spent a day in Alaska (a lot of veterans have), what you see on tv is certainly not representative of the real Alaska. Alaska is strategically and commercially important to the US, in terms of seafood, energy and defense. Being the largest state, villages are clustered around food sources or trade routes, and "combining" villages, (did they do that in the lower 48?), would probably make sense to some ignorant govt bureaucrat, but not to the people there. Alaskans are cut from a different cloth, and their culture and lifestyle does not conform to normal rules. Try a vacation up to Denali or somehwere fishing, and you may begin to understand. I've been gone since '93 and still hope to make the trip back.

Gilbert Jacoby on Saturday, November 24 2012:

As the fisheries become more and more radioactive and the seafood unuseable; we must remember, that it is only paper money or electronic credit being wasted here and elsewhere.... the joke is on the government people and the folks who eat the contaminated seafood. What a cruel and horrible joke. "Onward thru the fog!"

tax_revolt on Saturday, November 24 2012:

So instead of a bridge to no where, Alaska ended up getting a useless port. I understand there may be a need for the port, but isn't building the port before the infrastructure kind of like putting the cart before the horse?

Jeff on Saturday, November 24 2012:

Seems the Obama stimulus package sends more money where its not needed than where it is. Alaska has the highest drug and drinking rate in the entire country. That money would have been better spent combating both of these problems by hiring more law enforcement. Additionally, prices for food stuffs, etc... are outlandish in the outer villages. Maybe its time to start combining some of these tiny villages together into small towns and making food products, building materials, etc... more assessable so the prices come down for the people living there. Additionally, garbage dumps, etc... will serve a much larger population base than spending a few million on a dump that serves only 300 people when, for that kind of money, such a facility should be serving at least 30,000 people. Those that insist on living in their tiny villages of a couple hundred or so should then simply be cut off from the rest of the state and fend for themselves instead of expecting the American tax payer to pick up the tab for their decisions to be totally isolated from others so they can drink their lives away out of sight from the rest of society. Anyone whose ever watched the show Alaskian Troopers will know exactly what I'm talking about as the Troopers are forced to fly from one tiny village to another to ensure peace is being kept and (most of those villages are dry) and combating the illegal use of drugs, drinking which is more the norm than the exception.

Baz on Saturday, November 24 2012:

Just checked the vicinity in relation to military strategy. This is a really good area for submarines. Very close to deep water. Just saying, not suggesting ANYTHING. Hahahahaha

Norman Jacko on Thursday, November 22 2012:

This happens quite often in Alaska right now in Pedro Bay, AK. they are building a garbage dump, a road and bridge to the garbage dump all paid for with grant monies and the population is less than 30 people. The price is close to a million dollars

Jim Strunk on Wednesday, November 21 2012:

Well as the Hydrographer mapping the project I can tell you its there I will post the lats and longs when I get back to my Survey computer

Charles on Wednesday, November 21 2012:

I searched the Google Sat Map for these supposive places but other than the Trident Seafood processing plant, there is NO airport, or harbor, could be a great idea to give the coordinates to these supposive places cause without it, this article is a Lie.

Ron on Wednesday, November 21 2012:

I've been in alaska a few times and other than boats saw more float planes than cars,, so this town not having roads, I don't see a issue when I saw more float plans , that could easily taxi into the harbor.
Boat will come and have a safe harbor for port.

Dean Anderson on Saturday, November 17 2012:

This is so disgusting given the fact they just build a 75 million dollar runway to nowhere and just got done making a major 20-30 million dollar improvement on a harbor that is less than 40 miles away from akutan. Those that promoted and authorized this debacle should just have a hard time sleeping at night or just take a few extra pills so they may R.I.P.

Akutan or bust on Wednesday, November 14 2012:

You know Mr. Army Corp of Engineers you may want to consider building a port at Bogoslof Island (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogoslof_Island). The island doesn't have a port to peak of either and is right in strategic fishing grounds. Just something to think of.

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