A State Supreme Court decision dismissing a lawsuit by the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion and several individuals over the adoption almost two years ago of an updated master plan for East Hampton Airport is being hailed as a “major victory for the town” by East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the town board’s airport liaison.
“It clears the air,” Mr. Stanzione commented this week. “It settles a lot of the claims made by airport opponents, and permits us to finally move forward.”
Justice John J.J. Jones Jr. found that the town had followed proper procedures in adopting the plan, an accompanying airport layout plan, which is a list of projects for which the town could seek Federal Aviation Administration funding. Mr. Stanzione said this week that the resolution of the suit in the town’s favor will pave the way for it to ask the F.A.A. to fund projects outlined in the plan, such as runway and taxiway repairs and a second fueling station.
“We can have F.A.A. funding, and pursue restrictions on helicopters at the same time,” he said.
Accepting F.A.A. grants requires “grant assurances” from the town, by which it agrees to run the airport according to federal rules. This has been a source of increasing contention for decades, with ways to control airport noise fueling the debate in recent years. Those pressing the town to move ahead with F.A.A. funding include the East Hampton Town Republican Committee. Others have asserted that the only effective control will come when the town is free to set its own restrictions on airport access.
Among other claims, the Article 78 lawsuit challenging the master plan claimed the town should have considered the possibility and impact of asserting proprietary rights over the airport. It charged that the town failed to properly consider the noise impact of proposed projects, by relying on data obtained by using an F.A.A.-approved system of averaging noise over a period of time, versus measuring the extent and impact of actual, single noise “events.” The town did take single event data into account, the judge said, and he added that the use of an averaging system was not irrational, as the plaintiffs had alleged. The individual plaintiffs in the suit were David Gruber, Barbara Miller, Frank Dalene, Robert Wolfram, Barbara Wolfram, and Stephen Levine.
In its response to the lawsuit, the town, represented by Eric Bregman, a former town attorney, had said that it was not required to prepare an environmental impact statement for the master plan, which the lawsuit claimed was insufficient. Justice Jones, although noting that the town code requires environmental review when adopting such airport plans, said the record showed that the town followed State Environmental Quality Review Act procedures.
The East Hampton Aviation Association called the resolution of the lawsuit a “landmark decision” that “ends a 20-year battle to repair a runway needed for safe landings.”
But Jeffrey Bragman, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said Tuesday that “this fight isn’t going to be over in the first round. We always anticipate that the issues are complex, and probably merit some further judicial review.”
The town’s own aviation consultant, Peter Kirsch, had recently made statements about measuring aircraft noise that backed up the committee’s position on the use of the averaging system, Mr. Bragman said. He said the group is likely to appeal.
“The decision was very thorough, very well thought out, very well researched, and very right,” the town’s attorney, Mr. Bregman, said.