A hearing on a five-year capital improvement plan for the East Hampton Airport drew questions about the price tag of the projects in it — which grew from $6 million in August to $9.8 million last month and $10.4 million in a final draft — as well as pleas from airport users to address neglected maintenance and repair.
“Funding these improvements is not the topic of tonight’s hearing,” Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the town’s airport liaison, said in introductory remarks. The choice, he said, will be to use “local money, or F.A.A. money,” and would be made by next year’s town board.
Jim Brundige, the airport manager, said that significant capital projects had not been undertaken at the airport in close to a decade.
Pavement is crumbling, lights failing, and “main infrastructure declining,” said Mr. Brundige, and those things must be immediately addressed. “Otherwise, I’m concerned that the airport could close out of neglect.”
Dennis Yap of DY Consultants, who prepared the draft airport capital plan for the town, said that the five-year plan focuses on the repair of existing facilities and does not include any expansion projects.
On the list are taxiway lighting, a perimeter and security fence, taxiway signs, reconstruction of a section of runway 4-22 for use as a taxiway, a terminal ramp, a noise mitigation project, and the demolition and replacement of a hangar.
The capital plan, Mr. Yap said, is meant to serve as a “financial planning” tool for the board to “identify airport needs.”
With the exception of the hangar project, all, he said, are listed in the town’s adopted airport master plan and airport layout plan. The capital plan, he said, would be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration as a prerequisite to the submission of requests for F.A.A. grants to fund any of the projects.
Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc questioned that step. The question of taking new federal airport grants, which would extend by 20 years the town’s obligation to abide by certain parameters on F.A.A. airport use, has been central to the contentious debate over the airport. Town efforts to enact use restrictions on the airport in order to reduce noise disturbances would be affected by East Hampton’s obligations to the F.A.A., or freedom from them.
“Could we choose to keep this as an internal document and not submit it to the F.A.A.?” he asked. “Yes,” Mr. Yap said.
“Taking this step doesn’t mean you’re going after F.A.A. funding,” Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said.
Among the capital plan projects is a proposed $186,000 expenditure next year to reformat the already submitted airport layout plan to comply with F.A.A. requirements. That, Mr. Yap said, is needed if the town wants to add new airport projects to the plan and seek F.A.A. funding for them. Ms. Overby questioned that, as the board has not yet made a policy decision about airport funding, she said.
During the hearing, several pilots and airport business owners stressed the need to take action on airport repairs. “It’s simply about maintaining the airport,” said Bruno Schreck, a pilot.
Several others questioned the expansion of the capital plan and its price tag over several drafts in the past few months, and suggested that the need for the proposed projects, their alternatives, costs, and benefits had not been sufficiently discussed or established.
The final draft of the plan had been submitted by Mr. Yap just before the hearing, other speakers complained, leaving insufficient time for the public to review it and prepare comments for the hearing.
Tom MacNiven, a Wainscott resident, said that the plan was not publicly available. “I got it from a friend who got it from a friend — I’m just wondering if that’s transparency,” he said.
“A thoughtful public response to the plan would require enough time to read it, digest it, and really understand it,” said Kathy Cunningham, who heads the Quiet Skies Coalition. “We need more information about all of these things.”
Without detailed project descriptions, rationales, and cost estimates, she said she feared the $10 million capital plan was an “attempt to scare” the board and the public “into accepting F.A.A. funding.”
Drafts from August and October are “very different” from the final draft, with its $10.4 million price tag for all of the projects included, Charles Ehren, also of the Quiet Skies Coalition, said. He called it a “transparent attempt to support the political argument — the phony argument — to take F.A.A. money to save the taxpayer, and so on.”
Mr. Yap said that as he developed the plan and examined airport needs and the town’s long-range airport master plan, it “brought some of the long-term projects into the short term.”
“But none of that has been discussed by the board,” Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said.
Councilman Van Scoyoc agreed. While he said he is glad the board is discussing airport maintenance and safety needs, the board has not been briefed on the specifics of the proposed projects and their costs. “So I’m very reluctant to accept a plan without going through many of the important details,” he said. “I think it is extremely important to review this.”
Whether the town board can legally adopt the capital plan as proposed is at question. The town code, said John Jilnicki, the town attorney, requires that the plan “reflect the goals of the master plan that has been adopted by the board.” Pat Trunzo of the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion said that beyond the hangar project there is a total of six projects in the five-year capital plan that were not previously analyzed and approved in the master plan and layout plan. Town law requires a public hearing on and environmental analysis of airport projects.
Margaret Turner of the East Hampton Business Alliance urged the board to look at the airport as a town asset that “should be treated and maintained, as any other town asset,” and evaluate the capital plan separately from the issue of airport noise and funding.
But, said Bob Wolfram, one of a number of Sag Harbor and East Hampton residents affected by airport noise who spoke at the hearing, taking more F.A.A. money would be akin to “making a deal with the devil.”
With general agreement that the airport needs to be maintained, the question at hand, said Rachael Faraone of East Hampton, is if adopting the capital plan “is the first step on a path that will require F.A.A. funding, which will basically eliminate the town’s ability to regulate the airport on our own.”