The Town of East Hampton and the East Hampton Aviation Association are pitted against the Quiet Skies Coalition and the Committee To Stop Airport Expansion in an escalating battle that has now entered the courtroom. Numerous readers have complained that there is so much conflicting information it is difficult to reach a conclusion. The Independent has interviewed attorneys from both sides of the fence, a spokesman from the Federal Aviation Administration, and consulted a pertinent law suit to get some answers.
The folks opposing taking further money from the FAA say that we will be able to restrict air traffic in 2014 if we begin weaning ourselves from FAA now. The town and airport supporters maintain the FAA will probably always have some say in how the airport is run, but certainly until 2021, when the last of the present grant assurances expire.
Peter Kirsch, an aviation attorney representing the town:
There are 39 grant assurances. Three are permanent. Thirty four expire in 2021. Two expire in 2014. The Quiet Skies people are saying two are very important.
Jeffrey Bragman, an attorney representing the CTSAE:
The two critical ones expire in two and a half years.
Jim Peters, FAA spokesman: The town is a federally obligated airport. I don't think that ends in 2014. The airport is open 24-hours a day, you can't restrict planes from landing.
Airport opponents say New York City was able to limit traffic and reduce noise at the 34th Street heliport.
We're in exactly the same position New York City was in. They set a percentage of noise reduction and closed it down on weekends. There is no difference in the situation.
New York City has never taken FAA money. Permanent assurances were never applicable. We're left to speculate –I'm not willing to go out on a limb.
National Helicopter vs. NVC case: "We agree with the district court that the weekday and weekend curfews imposed should be upheld. The protection of the local residential community from undesirable heliport noise during sleeping hours is primarily a matter of local concern."
One side calls East Hampton Airport "A major metropolitan transportation hub." The other says we are "declaring war on the U.S." if we don't take grant money. Aren't both guilty of hyperbole?
Will they get in a war if the town ignores grant assurances? Absolutely. Will they if we don't take FAA money? No.
The aviation association has obscured the true facts: we do have the power to regulate noise.
East Hampton is a general aviation facility. Kennedy is a hub. LaGuardia is a hub. East Hampton is an airport on the East End of Long Island that experiences a surge during the warmer months.
Is it true if we raised fees enough we could make up the money the FAA gives us?
There is a range. A lot of small airports have no landing fees. If you raise the fees too high people won't fly as much so the revenue will level off.
The aircraft based here don't pay anything except a small local tax on airplane fuel.
There are no restrictions on what an airport can charge.
The CTSAE went to court last Wednesday to get an injunction to stop the town from taking FAA money for deer fencing. How did that turn out?
The court refused to enjoin the town from entering into a grant agreement with the FAA or accepting grant funding from the FAA. The town may proceed with its grant application to the FAA for the deer fencing repair.
The judge did not at all decide that the town has acted lawfully. The decision was purely procedural. There has been no ruling yet of any kind on the merits of the action. That will come.
The FAA has been painted in some quarters as a litigious-loving Big Brother lurking over the airport, looking to increase traffic.
Our interest is that the airport is safe for planes to take off and land. The airport operates under a state Department of Transportation license, but we can conduct safety audits whenever we want to make sure the infrastructure needed is sound. That's why they apply for grants.