The battle between those living near the East Hampton Airport and those using the airport has heated up in recent weeks. It is coming closer and closer to all out war.
In a way, it might be because the results of a skirmish between the parties that happened last year still simmers in court appeals—the townspeople won—and so that is not finished. In that case, the Town, which owns the airport, prevailed. Restrictions were put into place reducing the noise of the aircraft and the times aircraft can land and takeoff. But the appeals are still underway. Understandably, this has angered the townspeople.
Most recently there was a raid on the airport terminal by some residents from near the airport, looking for town ordinance violations by those businesses using the airport. Many of these residents were members of organizations, like Say No to KHTO (KHTO is the airport nickname for East Hampton Airport), that want the airport shut down. Others were members of Quiet Skies. Still others just came as independent individuals.
At the airport, according to a Quiet Skies release, they observed two little boys allowed out on the runway to meet their dad, who was emerging from a helicopter—a clear safety violation, they said— and they reported that to the airport manager. They observed some helicopters being refueled away from the terminal, but others nearby the terminal. The airport manager told the residents to stand behind a fence on a patio at the terminal so as to not to disrupt airline services. They moved to the patio.
But then, a counterattack occurred. Sound Aircraft Services, one of the fixed base operators at the airport, caused three large fuel trucks to go over to park on the runway by the terminal, nose to tail, which blocked the residents’ view of what was happening on the runways.
“The obvious purpose was to hide airport operations from public view. But passengers were then forced to walk through a narrow space between the fuel trucks and the patio for access to the terminal, creating a totally unsafe condition,” said Kathy Cunningham, the chair of the Quiet Skies Coalition in a press release.
Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell arrived. He said the town had no authority over the activities of fixed base operators on the airport runway. That was controlled by the FAA. To that, resident David Gruber, a member of East Hampton Town Noise Committee, sent out a press release that seemed designed to inflame tempers further.
“I have heard it said that the Town, the airport proprietor, does not control the airport, but that Sound Aircraft, one of the airport tenants, does, and the Town merely does its bidding. What I had always assumed to be empty gossip actually appears to be true. The Town apparently does not exercise control, for reasons of either safety or liability, over the portions of the airfield that are not leased out. Nor does it set any rules for the safety of the public.”
He added, “We went to watch operations and congestion, but were astonished at the safety lapses we saw. And those were just the ones we could easily observe from the small patio in a short span of time. It looks to me that no one in Town government, up to and including the supervisor, has any idea where the Town’s responsibilities regarding the airport and airport safety begin or end.”
Also new is a demand that the airport be shut entirely, proposed by Say NO to KHTO Chairman and spokesperson Barry Raebeck. Last month the Town of Santa Monica, California voted to shut down their small airport. The last planes will be landing there in 2018. Press releases from Say NO to KHTO sound the alarm about the aviation company BLADE, Inc., through which individuals can book seats on a scheduled charter flight by crowdsourcing, then sell the unused seats to others on the BLADE app, with those tickets sold booked back to BLADE itself for credit toward a future flight. BLADE, which already has a considerable fleet of aircraft, now lists 22 destinations in five different states, not just to and from East Hampton.
“The Town Board must face head-on the juggernaut headed our way,” said Patricia Curry, founder of Say NO to KHTO. “The aviation industry has its sights set squarely on East Hampton Town.” There seems no end in sight to the airport’s expansion.
“For KHTO, BLADE’s expansion means more noise, and more pollution,” said Raeback. “The economic gains from these operations do not benefit the residents of East Hampton; they benefit only the aviation investors. Our town board must do the right thing, and take immediate steps to prevent further destruction of our environment and quality of life. That means closing the airport now.”
If there are people in the Hamptons who want to close the airport, there are also people who would agree that though aircraft noise should be restricted, the airport certainly should not be shut down. Closing it would severely affect the economy here, and it would certainly result in an increase in the already clogged roads used by vehicular traffic.
Then there are those who live more than two miles from the airport. I am one of them. I look up and see a nice airplane or helicopter go by once in a while, but the noise is no big deal.
There are those that say “didn’t these people, when they bought their homes near the airport, notice there was an airport?” And the answer is most certainly they did notice the airport. The airport was founded in the 1930s. It was almost entirely surrounded by woods then. Of course, the usage and the noise have increased dramatically since those days. As for other points made by those fighting the airport—Santa Monica Airport is one of eight airports in the Los Angeles area. Its closure would not be dramatic. There are no other airports near East Hampton closer than 20 miles away.
If I were a world leader trying to negotiate a compromise between these two warring groups, I would suggest that the aircraft interests drop their battles opposing the new town restrictions and instead allow for even greater restrictions, because the ones put into effect last year have had little effect, and in exchange I would want the residents nearby to drop their request that the airport be shut down entirely.
And if that failed, I would suggest the one thing that would make everybody happy.
Off Long Beach, California, there are a series of artificial islands that have beaches and trees and other amenities on them but which were originally built to mask offshore oil-well rigs. The improvements make them look nice from afar. And you can picnic and sunbathe on them.
I think a landing strip should be built on a new artificial island 500 yards off Georgica Beach. It would be a win-win for everybody. Those folks who live on the oceanfront can watch their guests come and go right from their front lawns.
“Here comes Grandpa!” will be the cry.
Then Grandpa could be motored to shore in a hovercraft ferry that goes right up through the surf to an ocean beach at a road end. The flights would be entirely over water from the city, not over land annoying everyone. It would be a win-win for everybody.
Sometimes people caught up in conflicts don’t see the obvious solutions right in front of their noses.