Much has been made about the Town of East Hampton seeking money from the Federal Aviation Administration to help pay for projects at the airport. According to both those who favor taking aid from Washington and those who do not, the funding comes with strings attached: The airport must be operated in the way the agency likes — and with only a minimal degree of local control. However, there seems to be what might be called a moral and ethical dimension to the question of what it really means to accept financial help from outside.
It is understood that by taking federal money, which ultimately comes from United States taxpayers with a dollop from fees on regulated air carriers, East Hampton Town is beholden to interests beyond its borders, whether they are the owners of private aircraft with out-of-town addresses or helicopter and jet companies based elsewhere. But by the same calculus, the interests of the non-flying public who live in Southampton Town, Shelter Island, and on the North Fork must be taken into consideration. Call it a good-neighbor policy; by welcoming federal money to run its airport, East Hampton must likewise look well past Town Line Road when considering the facility’s use and impact.
One of the great puzzles in the airport debate is why the owners of small, private aircraft have thrown in their lot with those who make money from essentially open access. Perhaps they fear that local — read political — control, would be tantamount to inadequate maintenance and safety. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that the mom-and-pop pilots who call East Hampton their home field are carrying water for the brash industrialists and care-nothing helicopter companies who want to keep things the way they are, even if it means ignoring the clear public demand for noise abatement.
Unfortunately, the inadequacy of meaningful noise-reduction strategies has made the prospect of shutting down the airport, which was once unthinkable, something that now seems possible given the right combination of residents’ outrage and politics. Heading off such a regressive outcome should be a top priority for officials, and the sooner they start taking the complaints of those who live under the aircrafts’ paths seriously, the sooner solutions will be found that all of our communities can live with.