A $261,985 bill from a consulting firm that had overseen the process of gaining federal approval for the air traffic control tower at East Hampton Airport created shock waves — and a heated exchange — at a town board meeting on Tuesday when Councilwoman Theresa Quigley suggested the work had not been authorized by the board. In a lengthy discussion, it also was reported that the 2013 airport budget was likely to be exceeded by $200,000, and perhaps $300,000.
Ms. Quigley charged Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the liaison on airport affairs, with failing to seek the board’s approval for the work. “You’ve got a town board member running rogue, spending money without doing the proper process,” Ms. Quigley said. “I’m sorry to say this, but I’m not at all comfortable with the process. The airport is being run by one board member . . . ,” she said.
Mr. Stanzione stood his ground. Like Ms. Quigley, he is a Republican member of the board. Unlike Ms. Quigley, however, he has been at the hub of the perennial controversy about the airport and is running for re-election in November. He said the board had agreed to have DY Consultants, a firm it had engaged for numerous airport tasks, pursue the Federal Aviation Administration approval needed to operate the control tower this summer. “Did we or did we not approve DY to get us this control tower?” Mr. Stanzione asked.
The cost was incurred to have the firm prepare an environmental impact statement addressing potential impacts of the control tower, part of the required submission for a permanent license under the National Environmental Policy Act, called NEPA. The tower had been constructed and in use last year under a temporary license, and a permanent license was granted in June.
Ms. Quigley then brought airport expenses to the fore by questioning Jim Brundige, the airport manager, and Len Bernard, the town budget officer, about the impact of the DY charge on the airport budget. At that point, Mr. Bernard told the board the airport fund would be over budget by “at least $200,000” this year, and possibly by as much as $300,000.
A total of $945,000 was included in this year’s airport budget for legal fees, consultants, and contracts with other professionals. However, Mr. Brundige said the charge for the impact statement provided by DY Consultants had not been anticipated because the town had expected to be able to reopen the control tower this year under a short-term license. That turned out not to be the case.
Seeking to address airport noise, the board has engaged in long-term planning using Kaplan Kirsh, DY, and other firms. Expenses had mounted, with data collection under way on noise and payments due the town’s aviation attorney, Mr. Bernard said. The fund could exceed the budget by $300,000 should the town further consult Kaplan Kirsch, the legal firm, during the year. The budget included $100,000 for its fees, Mr. Bernard said, of which $96,000 has already been spent.
Mr. Brundige noted that, over nine years during his tenure, the airport fund had accumulated a surplus of more than $2 million. In the last few years, he said, “we’ve had some extraordinary expenses.”
Ms. Quigley acknowledged that the unanticipated expense may have been necessary. But, she said, “maybe there’s somebody who’s just spending money — the airport liaison, without consulting the board.”
Mr. Stanzione continued to maintain that the work was within the scope of what the board had authorized in approving the control tower licensing procedure.