Airport Biz Fears Loss

Ball in F.A.A.’s court; safety concerns emerge
Unused runway at East Hampton Airport
If the Federal Aviation Administration agrees with the East Hampton Town Board, an unused section of the East Hampton Airport could be the site of a two-day August pop music festival. David E. Rattray

    After a vote last Thursday by the East Hampton Town Board, the organizers of the MTK: Music to Know concert now hold two town permits authorizing the Aug. 13 and 14 event. One, being challenged in court, would allow them to stage the festival on farmland in Amagansett; the other, approved last week, allows them to stage it on an unused runway at East Hampton Airport.
    Although the town issued a commercial gathering permit for the event to take place at the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration must also approve it.
    The concert, in high season and with expected maximum ticket sales of 9,500, has engendered much community discussion. So far, only one of 20 expected acts, the band Dawes, has been confirmed.
    The F.A.A. requires a review of plans for any construction or alteration to an airport, even if it is only temporary. According to Jim Peters, a spokesman in the agency’s office of public affairs, the MTK organizers have submitted an application with all of the required information and documents, and it is currently under review.
    Organizers of the festival sought an okay for the airport location after Amagansett residents organized an outcry and a lawsuit, contending the festival would swamp the hamlet with traffic and potentially rowdy concertgoers. The lawsuit challenged the legality of the first mass-gathering permit that was issued, and questioned whether the town board had followed procedures outlined in the town code that require the board to weigh potential impacts before okaying an event.
    The original permit was issued in December within a week of the organizers’ request, and approved by a majority vote, with Councilman Pete Hammerle against it and Dominick Stanzione abstaining.
    Although it was determined that the environmental review process was not in fact required, the board had Planning Department staff conduct a review of the event’s potential impacts on the airport site, following State Environmental Quality Review Act rules.
    Along with the permit vote at last Thursday’s meeting, the board made a “negative declaration” under SEQRA, determining that there was no potential for significant adverse environmental impacts from the event.
    Members of the public have voiced opinions about the airport concert proposal during comment sessions at town board meetings, but no formal hearing has been held.
    The proposal was discussed by the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee, which sent a letter to the town board outlining some potential problem areas about the concert but indicating a willingness to have the board okay it, as it promises a $100,000 donation from the production company to local charities.
    Barbara Miller, a member of the committee, has circulated an e-mail calling on those with concerns to send e-mails directly to Andrew Brooks, the F.A.A.’s compliance program manager for New York airports.
    However, Mr. Brooks said in an e-mail to The Star this week that “the Town of East Hampton and the East Hampton Airport should be seeking input from members of the public regarding the proposal. The town and airport should, in turn, forward all concerns and the proposed method for addressing the concerns to the F.A.A.”
    Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and the members of the town board did not reply this week to an e-mail asking if public comments had been solicited and submitted to the F.A.A., or if that would occur.
    Whether or not public opinion will actually be a factor in the federal agency’s decision is unclear, however.
    Despite the fact that his colleague Mr. Brooks is encouraging the town and airport authorities to forward pubic comments to the F.A.A., Mr. Peters wrote the following in an e-mail to The Star: “We review the proposal to determine if the proposed activity is safe and in compliance with the Airport Improvement Program grant assurances. We encourage the airport operator to let the public know what it plans, but any comments it receives about the proposed concert do not weigh in F.A.A.’s decision.”
    Cindy Tuma, an owner of Sound Aircraft Services, which leases space at the airport, said this week that she had sent a letter some time ago to Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the airport liaison, expressing concern about the large two-day concert taking place there.
    A concert and an airport is a “dangerous combination,” she said. “I just think it’s not the venue. I can’t believe we’re even having the conversation. I can’t believe this town board wouldn’t realize the kind of liability they’re exposing themselves to.”
    Regardless of fencing or other security arrangements, she said, keeping 9,500 people off active runways and away from aircraft would be a great challenge, and could pose a threat to airport security. Having a portion of the airport and its surroundings clogged with festivalgoers and cars could be disastrous if an aircraft had a mechanical problem, she said. “Those are things you can’t plan for.”
    In addition, she said, Sound Aircraft, which does fueling, airplane maintenance, and the like, could normally expect to service more than 100 aircraft on an August weekend; it and the airport’s other “fixed base operators” that have leases with the town could be negatively affected by loss of income that weekend.
    Meanwhile, Town Councilman Pete Hammerle said that he worried that, if the concert is to be held at the airport this year, organizers would seek permission for repeat events in the future. The Wainscott citizens group, though expressing general support of the show this year, had noted in its letter that the burden of such large events should not be placed on one area, but rotated throughout the town’s hamlets. Because of its location and limited highway access, Mr. Hammerle said, East Hampton Town in general is not an ideal spot for events drawing very large crowds.