Airport Noise Effort Continues Apace

East Hampton Town may have had its efforts to stem noise from aircraft using East Hampton Airport shot down in court, and found no success in a bid to have the Supreme Court review the case, but town board members are not giving up.

The town board is hoping to find leverage in Washington, D.C., that would result in an amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill now before Congress that would give the town authority to impose airport rules. At the same time, through state legislation, the town is seeking to ensure that community members have a say in future decisions that could whittle away that authority.

That legislation, now awaiting Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature, would make acceptance of federal airport money subject to local vote, and “puts some of the decision-making power back into the hands of the community,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said in a recent press release.

Federal airport money comes from grants that carry an obligation to operate an airport according to Federal Aviation Administration dictates, outlined as “grant assurances,” which remain in effect for up to 20 years. While any entity that operates an airport must abide by F.A.A. rules, the degree to which local regulations may be imposed is in part dependent on the grant assurances in effect.

A 2005 memo from the F.A.A. to then-Congressman Timothy Bishop outlined the agency’s position and addressed the impact of a lawsuit settlement that invalidated several of the grant assurances that had been in place. With those grant assurances moot, and as long as no new ones were put in place, the memo stated the town had the right to restrict access to the airport in order to reduce noise.

The East Hampton Town Board would like to see those assertions codified by inclusion in the F.A.A. legislation pending in Congress. The existing town board has declined new F.A.A. grants to avoid further obligating the town but future town boards may do otherwise.

The town has drafted proposed amendment language that states that the last three town grant assurances expired as of Dec. 31, 2014; that the town is not subject to the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 and so is not required to follow a detailed application procedure, called a Part 161 study, to get F.A.A. permission to impose airport noise and access restrictions (unless it wishes to receive new F.A.A. grants), and that it would not be violating prohibitions by adopting such restrictions.

The state legislation awaiting the governor’s signature would allow East Hampton officials to hold a permissive referendum, or public vote, before accepting state or federal airport grants. Should a town board move to accept grants without holding a vote, residents would be able to force one by petition with the signatures of at least 5 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

In an email this week, the Quiet Skies Coalition, an East Hampton group, urged residents to ask Mr. Cuomo to act on the bill, noting that it had taken Assemblyman Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle, who co-sponsored the bill, three years to get it passed as home-rule legislation.

According to Kathleen Cunningham, who heads the Quiet Skies Coalition, the law “is the linchpin to next steps in taking back local control of this airport.” In an email, she also said, “Aviation interests will surely be pushing on the governor to let it die on his desk.”  

With regard to the federal legislation, the town board this week called on members of the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association to reach out to New York’s Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Representative Lee Zeldin, asking them to support the amendment. It is necessary, town officials wrote in a letter to East End officials, because legal actions filed by the National Business Aviation Association are pending that call into question whether the F.A.A. had the authority to settle the lawsuit.

“Regaining local control of East Hampton Airport and allowing our local community to put in place commonsense noise abatement measures is something the entire East End community supports,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell in the town board’s letter.

“The F.A.A. reauthorization bill is the perfect opportunity to clarify the intent of the 2005 settlement agreement and establish once and for all that the Town of East Hampton has local control over  its municipally-owned airport,” Councilwoman Burke-Gonzalez said. “We appreciate any and all efforts by our congressional delegation to that end.”