Pro airport advocates and the East Hampton Town Board claimed victory. Opponents said, "not so fast."
Last week State Supreme Court Justice John J. Jones rejected an effort by the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion to enjoin the town from pursuing an FAA grant to cover the cost of deer fencing at the Wainscott facility. The town board voted to pursue the funding on December 6, just five days after a well-attended hearing on the concept.
The Committee To Stop Airport Expansion, as well as individuals David Gruber, Barbara Miller, Frank Dalene, Robert and Barbara Wolfram, Arthur French and Stephen Levin petitioned the court for a Temporary Restraining Order following Tuesday's vote.
Attorneys for the town, working with legal reps from the group "Save The Airport," argued the petitioners failed to meet the standard for a TRO. The application for an FAA grant had already been submitted by the time they petitioned the court, the town's reps argued, so it was already under review by a federal agency. The FAA is a federal agency and as such "immune" from state court jurisdiction, according to the lawyers' brief.
Even if the petition could be considered, the request for remedy requires a "heavy" burden of proof, responding lawyers pointed out. Specifically, the plaintiffs had to prove they would suffer "irreparable injury" if a TRO were not in place.
In a release lauding the judge's decision to reject the request, airport liaison Councilman Dominic Stanzione said that as a result of the ruling, the town can proceed with its grant application to the FAA for the deer fencing design and repair.
The decision clears the way for the town to end the 22- year controversy on how to properly maintain a safe and quiet airport for the benefit of East Hampton, officials declared. "The court's support for our bi-partisan, unanimous town board decision advances the prospects for comprehensive management strategies that place a high-value on safety, fiscal responsibility and a much quieter airport," said Stanzione. He added, "We are a step closer to really reducing the impact of aviation noise."
A similarly worded press release distributed by the East Hampton Aviation Association Wednesday night added, "The East Hampton Aviation Association hailed the Court's decision as confirmation that the town had lawfully rendered its decision on the issue of the deer fencing and the policy of using FAA funds at the East Hampton Town Airport."
"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," Gruber countered last Thursday morning.
He continued, "It is rare in the extreme to be granted a TRO, an interim emergency measure, against a municipality. We had to move to preserve our claims. Our motion for a preliminary injunction will be heard in January. I am confident that the FAA will not enter into a grant agreement with the town before that motion is decided."