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WLNG
April 12, 2006

Lawyer Cautions Against Runway Closure


Closing Runway 4-22 at East Hampton Airport could result in increased, not decreased liability for the town, according to an attorney representing the group Save East Hampton Airport, Inc.

Last week, in a letter to Supervisor Bill McGintee, attorney Kevin Fox raised the specter of a multimillion-dollar personal injury lawsuit should an accident occur because the runway has been closed.

"Closing and not repairing the runway may increase the risk of a plane crash by forcing small planes to land in what may be dangerous cross-wind conditions," Fox wrote. Pilots have repeatedly argued that Runway 4-22 is the safest landing strip for small planes. In fact, one who wished to remain anonymous reported that, even though the runway was closed to landings as of March 3, he landed there last Friday. None of the traditional signs of closure — like a giant X painted on the strip — were present as of the beginning of the week.

McGintee reported that would be remedied soon. He refuted the contention that the runway is needed, reporting that only 2% of recent landings utilized 4-22. Furthermore, he offered that perhaps pilots should remain grounded if conditions are so severe that landing safety is imperiled. "I don't drive my vehicles in snowstorms," he said by way of comparison.

According to Fox's missive back in September 2003, he served the town with notice of a "defective, unsafe, dangerous, and obstructed condition" on Runway 4-22. The notice was in reaction to a town engineer's report. Fox reasoned that allowing 4-22 to remain in a deteriorated condition creates a flight hazard in violation of the provisions of General Municipal Law. For a variety of reasons, such as the town's decision to spend $100,000 on noise abatement, rather than enhancing safety, a jury might deem the failure to fix the runway "egregious malfeasance" on behalf of the town, Fox's letter warns.

"He can make any claim he wants," McGintee said on Monday. "We disagree with that claim."

Airport supporters have traditionally made the claim that Democrats are looking to close the facility down in its entirety. To the notion that the closure of Runway 4-22 may be perceived as a movement in that direction, McGintee pointed to close to a quarter of a million dollars in maintenance repairs depicted in his capital budget. "The fear is that if we lose that [Runway 4-22], people are looking to shut operations down and that is not what we are looking to do," McGintee said.

Within the next month an engineering group with expertise in airport improvements will assess the runway, McGintee offered. No matter what engineers find, however, no repairs will be made until the town completes a Master Plan for the entire facility. That document could recommend fixing the landing strip, or, like a 1989 version, call for its abandonment.

As The Independent went to press yesterday the board was slated to hear an update on the progress of the Master Plan update. McGintee would like to see the document completed by the end of the year. In the meantime, with two other landing strips at the airport operational, the supervisor said, "There's plenty of runways to land on."

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