East Hampton Town Board members are weighing the possibility of temporarily closing and then reopening the town’s municipal airport in Wainscott with more restrictions as to what types of aircraft can fly there.

The town is able to make this decision as of Sept. 26, 2021, when assurances the town made to the Federal Aviation Administration, as a condition of grant funding, to keep the airport open to a wide variety of aircraft expired.

The town would need to temporarily close the airport, currently designated as a “public use” airport, in order to reboot it as a publicly owned private-use airport, with what are known as Prior Permission Required, or PPR, restrictions in place.

The town would need to notify the FAA 30 days before closing the airport, and board members suggested shutting it briefly during the quiet months this winter at an Oct. 19 work session with their consultant, Bill O’Connor of Cooley Law. 

During the closure, the town could hash out potential restrictions, including curfews, reducing the length of runways, limitations on commercial users through a system ranging from a quota to a slot to a lottery, refusing permission for noisy aircraft, and also potentially providing blanket rights to land for small aircraft and for emergency medical and military aircraft.

“My view is we should exercise [this] option and we should gain full control and rights over the operation of the airport,” said Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc at the Oct. 19 work session. 

“We have to give the FAA 30 days notice, we have to have an idea of what time frame [the closure will be] and we have to have the restrictions in mind when we reopen as a private use airport,” said Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez. “What are our non-negotiables?”

Mr. Van Scoyoc said he wants to make sure the town has a good understanding of how the closure and restrictions will affect nearby airports.

“I’m not interested in taking steps that spill the traffic and then just see where it’s spilled and try to clean it up,” he said. “I want to be more deliberative than that.”

Councilwoman Sylvia Overby urged the board to consider the airport’s effect on the environment in its decision-making, as the town has pledged to do by recently declaring a climate emergency.

Councilman Jeff Bragman, who is running against Mr. Van Scoyoc for town supervisor, recently sent a letter to the East Hampton Star recommending the town close the airport for a year, which was met with much concern in Montauk, which has a small airport that could prove to be the destination during the closure. 

“When Montauk speaks, you have to listen to Montauk,” he said. “They don’t want helicopters destroying their peace and tranquility.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc said he was happy to hear Mr. Bragman’s position had changed.            —BHY          

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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