At Odds About Airport Control

New group demands action as busy skies raise some residents’ ire

    The question of how the East Hampton Airport will be managed in the future — and the role of the Federal Aviation Administration and East Hampton Town government there — may play a central part in this fall’s town elections.
    Members of the town’s disbanded airport noise abatement advisory committee are among those demanding that the town stop taking money from the Federal Aviation Administration for airport projects, which binds the town to follow federal strictures, and instead seek to enact restrictions of its own to reduce takeoff and landing noises.
    Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, meanwhile, predicts the F.A.A. is soon to enact a New York City-to-East End flight path along the southern edge of Long Island, which would be viewed as a substantial victory by residents under the present northerly approach flight path.
     In a letter to the editor published last week in this newspaper, David Gruber of the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion questioned whether candidates from either political party would pledge to stop taking F.A.A. money, “so that,” he said, “East Hampton can recover local control of its airport and solve this problem once and for all. . . . Or will you take another poisoned F.A.A. dollar and subject all of us, irrevocably, to this growing burden for another 20 years?” he asked. “If you care about the answer, make that your reason to vote.”
    Others, including Mr. Stanzione, question whether it would be an advantage to minimize F.A.A. control at the airport, noting that without the federal dollars that can cover up to 95 percent of airport costs, taxpayers might have to shoulder the burden, assuming the airport is not self-supporting.
    At present, no airport projects can proceed. The F.A.A.’s approval of an updated airport master plan and an airport layout plan, listing projects that could be eligible for federal funding, is pending. And a lawsuit asserting that the update process was insufficient, not taking noise and other environmental factors into account, has put everything on hold.
    This week, the longstanding Save East Hampton Airport group, whose members include a number of local pilots, sent an e-mail to East Hampton Town Board members and to the Democratic candidates for town board and town supervisor.
    Enclosed, according to the e-mail, were the results of a  poll conducted on the group’s behalf, along with a summary of its results. The poll dates from 2006 and indicates, according to the e-mail signed by Harold Levy, president of the sponsoring group, that 66 percent of voters surveyed said that noise at the airport is “not a concern.”
    Only 4 percent, according to the poll, said the town should pay 100 percent of the cost of airport runway repairs “to have the option of closing or limiting the use of the airport someday.”
    Other poll results indicated that 61 percent of the voters queried agreed with the statement that “even if I don’t use the airport, all the runways should be maintained and kept safe because the airport is important to our town.”
    In his e-mail, Mr. Levy did not press the recipients toward specific action based on the pollsters’ information. “We hope you will find this information helpful,” he wrote.
    In the period between 2006 and 2010, Jim Brundige, the East Hampton Airport manager, said yesterday, “total operations,” or the takeoff or landing of any kind of aircraft, decreased from 31,562 to 28,494 this year. Operations by helicopters totaled 5,787 in 2006, compared to 5,920 last year; those by jets totaled 3,158 in 2006, and 3,124 last year.
    Continued aggravation from airport-related noise has prompted the recent formation of a new group, the Quiet Skies Coalition. Barry Raebeck and Frank Dalene of Wainscott are chairman and vice-chairman.
    In letters to The Star this week, both men detailed the problems experienced by residents of neighborhoods near the airport. Mr. Raebeck described “relentless, ear-splitting noise” and a threat of accidents from “dangerously low flights,” and questioned the environmental impact of aviation fuel emissions on nearby acreage, including a drinking-water aquifer.
    Mr. Dalene said the group “seeks to return East Hampton Airport to its citizens’ control,” which he said can be accomplished by a refusal to accept further F.A.A. money.
    The new group, Mr. Raebeck said, is “pledged to work tirelessly to solve what has become a major local and regional environmental and safety problem.”