Alaska's Airport to Nowhere: $15 Million for Town of 150 People

The FAA approved construction of a new airport for a town of only 150 people.

OUZINKIE, Alaska, Aug. 3, 2009— -- Ouzinkie, Alaska, is a village so small and remote that most Alaskans have never heard of it. With only 150 residents, the village doesn't have any stoplights, there are no paved roads and no stores. There isn't even a town -- it's just a collection of dirt roads and some houses.

And yet Ouzinkie has hit the federal stimulus jackpot.

As federal money is carved up for airport improvements nationwide, $15 million has been sent to Ouzinkie for a brand-new airport.

The town's current airport consists of a gravel strip in the middle of a field -- no TSA presence and no buildings.

"I would say it's fair we get this money. We need this money, we really do," said Alex Ambrosia, tribal council president for Ouzinkie.

The tribal council says flying can become very dangerous because of strong winds and the short runway. A new airport will be able to accommodate small charter services, but no airlines.

"If we need to get someone out that is ill ... we can't get a plane in here because of crosswinds," said Jill Boskosky, a resident of Ouzinkie. "Why don't they come and try to live in our community and our rural villages, and see what we have to live with," she added.

But even some villagers think the federal money is a joke.

"I think that we're only a couple hundred people -- that's a lot of big money spent here," said William Delgado, a Ouzinkie resident who has lived there for the past 41 years. "That's an awful lot of money for a little village. I don't know how it happened, but it happened," he added.

Ouzinkie isn't the only town where this is happening: Tiny villages across the state of Alaska have received similar grants, all chosen by the FAA after the state submitted a wish list of airport improvements. The town of Fort Yukon received $15 million to rehabilitate its runway, and the town of Akiachak received $15 million for a new airport.

Alaska's Transportation Department Defends New Airport

"Our rural citizens have the same needs as our urban citizens, and we are not in a position to judge which are more important," said Christine Klein, Deputy Commissioner of Alaska's Department of Transportation.

"We have no alternative like roads, rail or ferry, unlike the rest of the country, so it's for people's survival safety and emergency access," she said.

But like a lot of people who live in Ouzinkie, longtime resident Matt Delgado doesn't even use the airport -- he takes a 30-minute boat trip to Kodiak, where there is a substantial regional airport.

"You can go by boat -- it's only a half-hour ride," he said.

Construction on Ouzinkie's new airport has already begun. Millions aside, locals complain that they're not getting many jobs out of it. The new runway is being built by outsiders, who come and go by planes landing at the current single runway airport.