A No to Airport Dough

Dems seek votes, local say with F.A.A. pledge
East Hampton Airport
Democrats running for town board have pledged not to take federal grants for the East Hampton Airport in order to seek more local control over its operation. Durell Godfrey

    The East Hampton Airport took center stage in the coming town election as the Democratic candidates for town board pledged this week not to take Federal Aviation Administration grants for airport projects for at least the next two years — a key element in the debate over how to gain more local control over use of the airport in order to ease the impact of aircraft noise on residents.
    The candidates, Zachary Cohen, who is running for supervisor, and Peter Van Scoyoc and Sylvia Overby, said they would accept no federal money, which comes along with “grant assurances” — a 20-year obligation on the part of the town to operate the airport under particular F.A.A. guidelines — while conducting a study of the airport. They would wait for the expiration of several of the grant assurances in 2014 in order to determine what impact that could have on East Hampton’s ability to impose restrictions such as curfews.
    The recent F.A.A. approval of the town’s airport layout plan allows submission of new applications for agency grants, and Republican Councilman Dominick Stanzione has suggested that the town board do so immediately to subsidize a deer fence project. The approval also paves the way for the town to install a seasonal control facility at the airport, allowing for the control of altitude and flight paths within a five-mile radius. Mr. Stanzione has said that the tower, along with the F.A.A.’s expected approval of a new flight path along the southern coast of Long Island, which would redistribute air traffic, will reduce noise problems here.
    The question of accepting federal money is hotly debated, with airport noise control advocates, including a new group called the Quiet Skies Coalition, insisting that getting out from under the grant assurances is key, while others, including the East Hampton Aviation Association, believe that the town should take the federal dollars, minimizing taxes on residents, while at the same time they question how much control the town would actually gain.
    In a release this week, the Quiet Skies Coalition called for voters to base their ballot decisions on the stands candidates take on the issue.
    A position paper distributed by the Democrats cites “increasing tensions between the users of the airport and the people who live under the flight paths” and says that a number of people “live with a disturbing amount of noise.”
    “While the airport provides benefits to a few residents, hundreds, if not thousands, of other residents experience a lower quality of life and diminished property values from its operation. The town must keep open the option of regaining local control after 2014 unless there is proof that it is possible to satisfactorily control noise under the current grant assurances,” it says.
    The candidates propose studying the effect of the seasonal control tower for two seasons after its installation, along with safety, noise, and flight paths in the off-season, doing a full financial analysis to examine how the airport can be self-sustaining without taxpayer support, and factoring in future variables such as increased helicopter traffic or new aircraft technology.
    “No one has done a good financial analysis of the airport’s long-term operating costs, including debt service, if the town does not take F.A.A. money. We will do such an analysis in the first nine months of our term,” the Democratic candidates said in their statement.
    While the airport is being studied, the Democratic candidates said it should receive no taxpayer funding. Fees paid by airport users and an existing $1.5 million surplus can pay for the control tower and small projects, such as the deer fence, they propose, while a larger project, the repair of runway 4-22, should be put on hold.
    Mr. Stanzione, the town board’s airport liaison, denounced the Democrats’ statement this week, saying it was based on “untruths.”
    He has been consulting with Peter Kirsch, an aviation attorney, and said he is convinced that the town would not gain anything by refusing F.A.A. grants. He supplied a fact sheet prepared by Mr. Kirsch describing what would be required should the town seek F.A.A. permission to restrict use of the airport, which the attorney called “extensive, time-consuming, and costly,” taking several years and potentially costing millions of dollars.
    However, according to Kathleen Cunningham, a member of the Quiet Skies Coalition steering committee who served as chairwoman of the town’s now-disbanded airport noise abatement advisory committee, much of the required data collection and environmental review have already been done as part of the master plan process.
    In his memo, Mr. Kirsch writes that when all of the grant assurances East Hampton is bound by expire in 2021, “the town would gain only slightly greater control over the airport than it has today,” as all public airports are subject to federal, state, and constitutional laws. Airport owners can restrict access to an airport only if they can meet “a fairly high threshold” demonstrating that the actions are reasonable and “necessary to achieve legitimate local needs,” he said.
    Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said Tuesday that the town board had met with Mr. Kirsch in an executive session several weeks ago and that she supports having the consultant discuss the funding issue at a public work session of the board.
    She said she needed more information in order to decide about taking new F.A.A. grants. However, she said she believed Mr. Kirsch had told the board that accepting federal money for the deer fence would not extend the town’s obligation to abide by F.A.A. grant assurances beyond their current expiration date.
    “The question of control is the key,” Ms. Quigley said. “I want to make sure that the helicopters are controlled.”
    Both she and Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who with Mr. Stanzione form the board’s Republican majority, said that, depending on the implications, they would like to see town taxpayers benefit from federal dollars.
    “The economy is severely stressful on all our residents,” Mr. Wilkinson said Tuesday. “They are already being taxed when they fly, for F.A.A. funding of such airports. I don’t believe in double taxation.”
    But the supervisor said there are no plans at present to apply for new F.A.A. grants to pay for airport deer fences. “I don’t see that happening,” he said.
    “I do think that we have an asset in that airport,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “It’s part of our infrastructure, not only in case of emergency. But you have to have a balance.”
    “At the same time I don’t believe that the airport should be expanded,” he said. “I believe it should be maintained as it is.”
    He said he believes that the board should “really do a thorough vetting [to] look and see if there’s real cause and effect” regarding local airport control and what F.A.A. money obligates the town to do. Meanwhile, Mr. Wilkinson said, “I think we’re working toward a quieter airport, and a safer airport.” He indicated the F.A.A.’s recent approval of the airport layout plan and the potential for the seasonal control facility as well as the possibility of the more southern helicopter route.
    In a letter to The Star this week, members of a helicopter committee formed by the Northwest Alliance, a group concerned with issues related to the Northwest area of East Hampton, asked the town board to reject further Federal Aviation Administration money. They said that, while pleased with the recent developments, “neither of these steps can address what we see as the primary problem: excessive airport traffic and the resulting noise pollution.”
    “With relief from grant assurances we will be entitled to establish and enforce a variety of policies that will reduce noise,” they wrote.
    In another letter to the editor submitted this week, Frank Dalene, the vice chairman of the Quiet Skies Coalition, took issue with recent newspaper ads placed by the East Hampton Aviation Association saying that F.A.A. cooperation and funding is “essential” and that “now we can have a quieter and safer airport with local control.”
    He cited questions raised by Joseph Fischetti of Southold, a member of a regional airport noise committee, about the ultimate impact of the southern flight route, as its use would require aircraft to have specialized equipment. And questions remain about routing planes through Kennedy Airport airspace.
    In a release, the Quiet Skies Coalition said that the group is asking each town board candidate on the November ballot to sign a pledge not to take further F.A.A. funding for the airport.
    In an informational flier also distributed this week, the coalition cites several effects of what is described as an “at-times-deafening aerial assault” from helicopters and airplanes, including “spoiling the very act of being outdoors for thousands of people on a daily basis,” “aggravating natural habitats and the wild creatures therein,” and “significantly damaging our property values and our chosen way of life.”
    Concerns over the airport, including not only noise but also the environmental impacts of aviation fuel emissions and underground jet fuel tanks, “force voters to support candidates for town board according to their position on exercising local control of our airport,” Barry Raebeck, the group’s chairman, said in the release.


Comments

“significantly damaging our property values and our chosen way of life” 1. Yeah, nobody forced you to buy a house next to an airport. 2. I'll bet you enjoy all the benefits of the high rollers bringing in MONEY into your community to support the local business. Let's not dismiss this fact.
This airport was opened in 1940. Anyone who moved there since that time knew, or should have known, that the airport was there, and therefore really has no right to complain about the noise. It's that simple.
So, was the airport there when all those complaining about noise bought their house? If so, how is it reducing their property values? If you buy a home near an airport you know there will be noise and the price you pay is reduced accordingly. Is this another example of people who knew what they were getting but have now decided to impose their will on others? Just asking...
"While the airport provides benefits to a few residents..." That statement alone shows the politicians have no understanding of the economic impact an airport has on a community. The airport benefits everyone whether they realize it or not. What about Young Eagles, Angel flight, Pilots-and-Paws, and other charity organizations pilots fly for at their own cost? They all benefit the community as well as the visitors who land there and spend money in the community. The airport doesn't exist just for pilots alone.
I take exception to the statement "While the airport provides benefits to a few residents, hundreds, if not thousands, of other residents experience a lower quality of life". General aviation aircraft are the mainstream of a 20 billion dollar industry in this country - generating more than 150 billion dollars in economic activity. Every community lucky enough to have their own general aviation airport benefits as that airport creates a ripple effect. Those in East Hampton who execrate the airport and the aircraft it attracts should learn more about the business that are based at the airport, the number of people working at the airport, and the number of dollars that are pumped into the community that would go away if this airport were to close. Because this attempt at "local control" is just the first step on a path that will end with the closure of the airfield. Without federal funding to maintain the field and assure its safety, the airport will wither away. I would encourage all in East Hampton to reach out to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) to learn more about the benefits of general aviation in America, and to the AOPA Airport Supprt Network volunteer at their airport to learn about the specific benefits to their community.
As a society, we constantly pander to the whiners and complainers. It is time to, "just say no". This small coalition of complainers - as mentioned previously - knew they were buying a property near an airport. It is time THEY take responsibility for their own actions. To Cunningham, Quigley, Dalene & the others, I say, "If you don't like the noise you knew was there - MOVE".
But, pilots and airport service providers: The noise is 1,000 times what it used to be -- for people who live NO WHERE NEAR the airport. We live in the village, and the thunder from jets and helicopters -- ferrying the super-rich to their weekends at the beach, or just to parties, hardly necessary traffic, hardly serving some necessary useful purpose for the average citizen -- is insane, aggravating, constant, and thoughtless. It's a classic example of the privileged not caring two toots who they annoyed or inconvenience, or whose sleep they're disturbing. It's like in the 18th century, when dukes would thunder thru London in their fast carriages, trampling over the hard-working citizens in the street. And, NO, it wasn't like this 40 or 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago. No. It. Wasn't. If you think it was, you obviously weren't around then. The private jets fly in straight over the heart of the village, constantly constantly constantly... (And guess what? The village dates to 1648. Predates the horrendous, house-shaking noise by hundreds of years.) Your argument that those bothered by airport noise should just "move" would, you know, empty the friggin' village! Private jets and helicopters need to be either controlled by a tower to come in with guided approach over the ocean, or they need to be made to land elsewhere. (Westhampton?)
One more article in 20 years of misinformation. 1. Grant Assurances do NOT expire in 2014 but in 2021. Though a self appointed "Committee" sued the FAA (but not the Town) and then settled the suit with a purported agreement that some of the Grant Assurances would expire in 2014: the Committee didn't have standing; the FAA didn't have the power or authority to waive the Assurances; the Town wasn't a party; even if some of the Assurances expire many others survive; even without any Assurances the Town cannot gain the "control" of the airport the opponents of the airport and the federal regulation claim. 2. The opponents of the airport masterplan and federal funds have cost the Town hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation defense costs though they haven't won a single case; millions of dollars in lost federal funds that were available for the asking to repave runway 4/22, install a proper deer fence, pay for an automated weather station which reduces "missed approaches" and the associated noise, and make other safety and noise abating improvements to the airport. 3. For many years the Town has reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in revenues generated by the airport through fuel sales, landing fees, hangar, FBO, utility and other rentals, rental car and advertising concessions,industrial park rentals, job production, incubator space for startups, community facilities. Much of that revenue which was legally required to be applied to repair and maintenance of the airport was instead diverted to feeding the Town's insatiable appetite for wasting taxpayer money, allowing the airport to deteriorate despite the availability of federal funds that would have cost the taxpayers nothing. 4. The best way to achieve a quieter airport would most certainly not be by waiting for grant assurances to expire and then ineffectively seeking to gain greater control over the airport, but to embrace the regulatory scheme already available through acceptance of federal funds and implementation of noise abatement procedures. 5. Many of the opponents of the airport have their own agendas, some having bought cheap land in the vicinity of the airport which they believe would increase in value if the airport were not there, others seeing an opportunity to profit from redevelopment of the airport. 6. The airport cannot, and should not, be closed. Legally, even if federal grant assurances lapse, the airport cannot be closed as a public use airport. Practically, apart from providing many important emergency services, it provides a major direct and indirect boost to the local economy. 7. For candidates for Town office to pledge ANY position on the airport before taking office and informing themselves on the issues and the available mechanisms to address those issues is to enshrine ignorance, placing uninformed ideology in service of the few against analytical and practical implementation of available policies, procedures, technology and regulations in service of the many.
I fly into many airports both large and small. Throughout the country the small airports that succeed, to a high level, are the ones the county, city, or town embrace and run correctly. Politicians that pander to small groups of complainers and do not know all the facts are typical of what is going on in this country. Groups like this tried to shut down Westhampton, wanted the Air Guard to change the times they fly. Can you imagine saying you can't fly out to and emergency because it's too late and it's your husband that is out in the ocean with a sinking vessel. I have also flown a number of Angel Flights out of East Hampton for East Hampton residents. Maybe some flight paths have to be changed for noise abatements and I am sure that late evening and early morning use is already curtailed. The town of East Hampton has already seen business leave the airport due to their inability to cultivate its use. You should contact AOPA, www.aopa.org and get all the facts. The public needs to know the real deal, not what elected or hopful politicians say. Just look at Washington.