Loud or Quiet: Decision Day for East Hampton Airport

East Hampton Airport cartoon by Dan Rattiner
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

Today, June 26, Friday, Judge Joanna Seybert in Islip decides about whether the new laws regulating the East Hampton Airport can go into effect this summer or not. She will be responding to a request made to delay these new regulations until legal matters can be sorted out. A temporary injunction can be issued if a judge thinks a thing passed is so dreadful that it should not be allowed to go into effect until the day—maybe four years from now—when, perhaps at great expense, final decisions about it could be made. She could also rule that the new laws are not so awful, so go ahead. The laws were passed to go into effect on May 19, but after a local group field a lawsuit, the judge asked for the town to hold off on enforcing the new restrictions, and said she’d like to hold off on making a decision until June 8. At the beginning of June, she ruled she’d like to hold off on making a decision until June 26.

The town, without an actual temporary injunction, could have the new laws go into effect anyway, but instead, as a courtesy to her, agreed to hold off enforcing the new laws (so as not to piss her off, maybe) each time. Whether they will do so again if she postpones again, I don’t know. Not making a decision, if it continues, would effectively kill the new laws for the summer, when all the big jets and noisy helicopters come thundering in. Currently there are no serious restrictions at the airport.

Meanwhile people say they have seen the judge, in her robes and with her measuring stick, entourage and limo, out on the runway standing in back of huge private jets to see if her judge’s wig would be blown off and her gowns rent asunder. But I don’t believe them.

The lawsuit and request for a temporary injunction have been brought by a group that has given themselves the very happy name of “Friends of East Hampton Airport,” which really should have been entitled “The People Who Don’t Care About Those Who Live Near the Airport and It’s Just Too Bad for Them”—and reportedly they considered that, but I don’t believe that either. TPWDCATWLNTA does have a nice ring to it, however.

The new laws passed back in early April, actually, are fairly modest. Instead of having the noise 24 hours a day, they want the ban flights only between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. As for noisy aircraft (landing decibels of 93 or greater—all planes are given decibel level ratings by their manufacturers), the town’s new laws would only allow such a plane to come in and land and then skedaddle out once a week. No “noisy” aircraft would be allowed to take off or land between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. Of course, in emergencies, the airport is open for anything.

The arguments against all this are entirely economic. The Friends say that the new laws will have a dire effect on the economy, and all the rich people who fly in here from New York will instead land at Brookhaven and establish a new wealthy colony in Ronkonkoma or someplace like that. Ronkonkoma is on a lake. Lake Ronkonkoma. What’s next, the rich will say? Restrictions on expensive cars?

The Friends also argue that the airport will become a slum without the FAA’s money. Potholes in the runway. Control tower computer viruses, etc.

It should be said that if you do the math, how many people on average are in a plane, how many aircraft land, how many noisy aircraft or aircraft that come in at night there are and how many people will likely opt for elsewhere, you come up with about two Hampton Jitney Ambassador loads a day. I did the math. Ronkonkoma should not get its hopes up.

A rather startling thing in all this has been the behavior of the FAA, which governs airports and makes sure everything is safe and it’s all on the up and up. The FAA has for a long time infused East Hampton airport with funding, much of which gets used for improvements the FAA feels are necessary.

Last year, after the East Hampton Airport cut down on their FAA funding in order to become more independent (the airport is owned by the Town of East Hampton) the FAA in a letter to the town agreed that by cutting down as much as they did—no new funding and just let the old funding run out—they would allow East Hampton to make reasonable decisions about the airport’s future unimpeded.

The startling thing is that the FAA has come down on the side of the “Friends” in asking for the temporary injunction.

Last week, in Congress, the matter of the FAA’s new funding came up, and our new Congressman, Lee Zeldin (Shirley-R), stood up and asked that a sentence be included in the funding bill for the FAA re-confirming the FAA’s position as stated in their letter last fall—and the Congress did that. (Zeldin is a first-term Congressman, and will be challenged next election by a well-respected Town Supervisor, Anna Throne-Holst of Southampton.

Besides the fact that he did the right thing, he needs applause.) Of course, the FAA can always say the new laws are not within reason. Personally, I think the FAA is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They are not unbiased in this matter. The Town, I think, has long thought they are.

On the other hand, I see a clear solution to all this. It came about when I read that the Chinese have had the nerve to cart in lots of sand to one of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, a group of islands that can be underwater in storms about equidistant from the Philippines and Vietnam, both of whom claim the islands as their own. Planes flying over have seen the Chinese building a runway on this new elevated island. The runway is long enough for bombers. Alongside the runway will be an airport. Alongside the airport will be anti-aircraft guns. The guns arrived last week. Stay away, the Chinese say.

Mr. Obama is horrified at this. A country can claim territorial waters if it can show it’s theirs, and by George, the Chinese are doing that. The Chinese will now have control of the comings and goings of ships that travel about off the Spratlys—my reaction is to say well, why doesn’t America bring in some sand and shore up one of the other Spratlys and put OUR base on it?

And I know exactly where they could practice on doing what the Chinese are doing. Three miles offshore of the Hamptons, out in the ocean halfway between Southampton and East Hampton, they could build a new island and put a runway on it.

There’s plenty of precedent for this. We’re already building islands with oil rigs and palm trees off the California coast. The rich could fly their corporate jets and choppers in and out. The folks on shore could watch the comings and goings through binoculars. Launches could take the wealthy chopper and corporate jet people to a new pier at Bridgehampton where chauffeurs could pick them up and fan them out to their proper abodes nearby on the beach. (Also we’d let fishermen fish off the pier.)

And all will be quiet and serene in the skies over eastern Long Island forever and ever.

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