East Hampton Unveils Proposed Airport Restrictions

The East Hampton Airport.
The East Hampton Airport.

The East Hampton Town Board is considering four restrictions on traffic at the town’s airport in Wainscott, which they hope to have in place by this summer season.

The restrictions, unveiled Wednesday, include a mandatory nighttime curfew, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., an extended curfew on noisy aircraft from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m., a ban on all helicopters on weekends during the summer season and a limit on operations by noisy aircraft of one trip (one arrival and one departure) per week during the summer season.

These restrictions are similar to those proposed by the airport’s noise subcommittee two weeks ago.

Katie Van Heuven of town consultants Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell laid out the legal principals behind the restrictions at the Feb. 4 work session.

“Any restriction by any airport properietor has to be reasonable, non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory,” she said, adding that if the town adopts the restrictions without FAA approval, they won’t be eligible for future grants from the FAA.

The town is already facing legal challenges in the face of the planned restrictions.

On Jan. 29, a group called the Friends of the East Hampton Airport, including several helicopter charter companies and advocacy groups, filed two complaints in federal district court.

One complaint against the FAA challenged the 2005 settlement of a case that shortened the timeline for the “grant assurances” put in place to assure access to the airport as a result of the town taking FAA grant money. Those assurances had originally been slated to expire in 2021 but the FAA agreed in 2005 to not enforce the grant restrictions after 2014, which has given the town the opportunity now to restrict access to the airport.

The second complaint asked the FAA to make the town complete work to close what it calls “critical safety and security gaps” at the airport, including installing deer fencing, tree removal and repair of runway lighting. Many of these projects are either already underway or bonded for by the town.

Ms. van Heuven said at the Feb. 4 work session that the restrictions would affect 31 percent of operations at the airport, but would address 74 percent of the complaints about airport operations.

Consultant Ted Baldwin of HMMH broke the statistics down further.

Mr. Baldwin said the mandatory curfew would have affected 580 aircraft operations in 2014. The town received 1,100 complaints due to operations during those hours.

The extended curfew for noisy aircraft along with the overnight curfew would affect 2,400 operations and 4,700 complaints, or 9 percent of the annual operations at the airport and 21 percent of the complaints.

The prohibition of helicopter operations on holidays and weekends, in addition to the prior two restrictions, would affect 6,100 operations at the airport, 24 percent of the annual operations, but would address 62 percent of the complaints.

“We’re really eating into it here,” said Mr. Baldwin. “We’re getting into the majority of the noise complaints.”

With the limit on noisy aircraft to one operation per week, the restrictions would affect 7,900 of the 25,000 opeartiosn at the airport each year, but would address 74 percent of the complaints.

Peter Kirsch of Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell invited written comment on the restrictions to htocomments@ehamptonny.gov. His firm has also set up a website, www.HTOplanning.com, with all of the documents related to the restrictions.

Mr, Kirsch said the penalties for violations of the restrictions would be unclassified misdemeanors, with fines on an escalating scale.

Aircraft owners would be fined $1,000 for their first violation, $4,000 for their second violation, $10,000 for their third violation and after the fourth violation would be prohibitied from using the airport for two years.

“The town board is very serious about these restrictions,”he said. “They’re designed to make sure there is in fact conplience.”

Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, who serves as the town board’s liaison to the airport, said the airport’s budget and finance committee will review the restrictions later this week to make sure the airport will still be able to be financially sustainable.

Then, next Tuesday, the board plans to set four public hearings, one on each of the restrictions, for March 5. The board hopes to hold that hearing at LTV Studios in Wainscott at 4:30 p.m. in anticipation of a large crowd.

“We’re looking to take final action in mid-March so the restrictions are in place in time for the 2015 season,” she said.

 

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, 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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