The adoption on Tuesday of a capital improvement plan for East Hampton Airport has fanned fears that the outgoing administration will attempt to answer the controversial question of whether the town should accept new grants from the Federal Aviation Administration by taking federal money before the end of the year.
Extending the obligations to the F.A.A. that come along with accepting the agency’s money for the airport, in effect for 20 years from each separate airport grant, has been central to arguments over how the town might obtain more control over airport use in order to reduce aircraft noise.
Aviation interests have asserted that federal money is needed to maintain the airport, and that it would make no difference, while noise control advocates have pointed to different standards that would be applied if the town is “grant obligated” or not, as far as defending the enactment of local restrictions such as a curfew on helicopters.
In recent weeks, the town’s aviation attorney has advised the town board that, under forthcoming F.A.A. rules, being less beholden to the agency’s oversight may be critical to the ability to enforce noise-control measures.
The airport capital improvement plan, approved on Tuesday by a split 3-to-2 vote along party lines, includes a list of projects, such as repair of runway and taxiway pavement, runway lighting, and the construction of a perimeter and security fence, with an estimated total cost of approximately $5 million. Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and fellow Republican majority members, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who are leaving office at the end of the month, voted in favor of it.
An additional approximately $5 million worth of projects was removed from an earlier draft of the capital plan after a hearing last month, when it was determined that only projects already included in the town’s airport layout and master plans, for which a general environmental impact evaluation has been done, could properly be listed on the capital improvement plan.
Those projects that were removed have been listed on an airport maintenance plan presented to the town board this week by Jim Brundige, the airport manager. Both lists, Mr. Brundige said, are key to helping town officials develop a roadmap for airport upkeep and repair. No major capital improvements have been made to the airport during his nine-year tenure with the town, Mr. Brundige said.
According to the resolution approved Tuesday by the board, the capital plan will be submitted to the F.A.A.
A previous board, in 2011, unani mously approved the submission to the F.A.A. of a request for money for an airport fence design, which has been pending.
The agency had indicated it was willing to fund the fence project, but wanted the town to commit to constructing the fence before it would pay for its design.
In October, Councilman Stanzione offered a resolution stating the town’s commitment to completing the fencing project, with or without money from the F.A.A. He has made no secret of his opinion that new F.A.A. grants should be accepted and has accused those opposing accepting them of wanting to shut down the airport.
That October commitment could have set the federal agency’s wheels in motion for issuing a grant to the town.
“It is definitely a possibility,” said John Jilnicki, the town attorney, yesterday. “I don’t know, frankly, if it’s a reality, but it’s a possibility.”
However, he said of the F.A.A., “I have heard nothing from them at all.” In past years, Mr. Jilnicki said, F.A.A. officials, “aware of the fact that the town board changes its composition every few years,” have held off on decisions affecting the town when a new administration is poised to take office.
Another factor, he said, may be the availability of money. The F.A.A. has a finite amount of airport improvement grant money for each calendar year, and may have exhausted the coffers for 2013.
“I would like some assurance,” that the board does not at present intend to pursue F.A.A. funding, Kathy Cunningham, president of the Quiet Skies Coalition, told the town board on Tuesday, before the airport capital plan was adopted.
“This is a roadmap for projects that might be done in the future, and might not be done,” said Councilwoman Quigley. “I don’t know how to make it more clear that all we’re doing is approving a roadmap. There’s nothing about funding here,” she said.
On Tuesday afternoon after the vote, the East Hampton Aviation Association issued a press release thanking the board and in particular Mr. Stanzione for adopting the “repair plan.”
“Next year, the town can decide whether it wants to pay for the repairs itself or apply to the F.A.A. for the funds to do so,” the organization wrote.