East Hampton Airport Fibs

East Hampton Airport sign
East Hampton Airport (James J. Mackin)
James J. Mackin

The Town of East Hampton is considering closing East Hampton Airport. It owns the place. So, presumably, it could do that.

Other people in town want it to stay open. It’s a big decision. I think it’s reasonable to discuss this. At the same time, Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc has hired experts to provide “facts” to a variety of committees he’s set up to advise him on what to do. Unfortunately, many of these “facts” are wrong, often tilted to the side of closing the airport. Many such inaccuracies appeared in a full-color “close the airport” flier which appeared in my mailbox last week.

Be it known that I am a taxpayer and permanent resident of East Hampton for more than 60 years. Here are the lies.

“The Airport Brings No Real Economic Benefit to East Hampton.”

FACT: A study ordered looks only at impacts to East Hampton Township. But the township is only a small part of the whole community where the impact of closing the airport will occur. There will be dramatic economic impacts to Montauk, Amagansett, Springs, Pantigo, Wainscott, Sag Harbor and Southampton. East Hampton Village was not even included in the study.

“The Airport Contaminates Groundwater and Georgica Pond. (It’s) a Superfund Site in Need of Remediation.”

FACT: The airport has not been declared a superfund site. The problem occurs in the use of firefighting foam at the East Hampton Town Fire District Training Facility on the other side of Industrial Road from the airport. For every session, they set things on fire and put it out with foam. They’ve been doing this for decades. This has been declared a superfund site.

“Year After Year, Airport Traffic Has Increased.”

FACT: The number of landings and takeoffs this past year is almost exactly the same as it was 20 years ago, according to an airport official. It hasn’t changed. What has changed is the composition of what comes and goes. Twenty years ago, there were practically no helicopter takeoffs and landings. Now 40% of the takeoffs and landings are by helicopters, which often noisily circle around overhead awaiting their turn to land. This is the crux of the problem! More about this in the next “fact.”

“The FAA Will Not Allow Any Modifications to Affect Who Is Allowed to Use the Airport. This Includes Helicopters.”

FACT: Amazon, which has built warehouses alongside Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, was told it may not land cargo planes at that airport. At other airports, such as the Coeur d’Alene Airport in Idaho and the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport in Colorado, groups that include all the stakeholders (including the FAA) meet together to decide on the rules. Here, the town refuses to attend such meetings. Other airports have landing slots that limit helicopter traffic. The helicopter firms trade these slots. Without a slot, they can’t schedule a flight. A recent meeting created an acceptable compromise with the North Fork authorities. Why not try that?

“Loud, Unsafe, Relentless and Open 24/7.”

FACT: Sounds like the road I live on, which is Three Mile Harbor Road. Certainly it applies to all highways here. Shall we now build a toll gate at the canal?

“For the First Time in 20 Years, Residents of East Hampton Have a Say in the Future of the East Hampton Airport.”

FACT: Or do they? The airport is made up of adjacent 300-acre parcels. In 1937, the first parcel was sold by the county to the town so an airport could be founded as a federal WPA project. The second parcel was sold to the town in 1941 by a man named Arnold E. Mulford, and the sale document says it’s to be used to expand the airport. And if not? The descendants of the Mulfords might be able to buy it back for that amount. (If I were a descendant and could buy 300 acres for $1, I’d jump at the chance.)

Then there is the protocol. According to East Hampton Aviation Association Vice President Kathryn Slye, in 1990, East Hampton signed a protocol forbidding it from changing any flight rules without FAA permission. This protocol resulted in a court decision in 2015 swatting down flight rule changes which the town had decided upon unilaterally, without consultation with a local flyers group, among others. One new rule announced an 11 p.m. curfew, enforced as a criminal (not civil) offense with a $10,000 fine for each infraction. Pilots convicted of criminal offenses lost their pilot’s license. Of course, such a thing could not stand.

“The Airport Noise Is Staggering.”

FACT: People file a complaint by pressing a button on their computers. There are twice as many complaints as there are airport takeoffs and landings. A study done shows that 10 people, pressing the button over and over, make up 40% of the complaints. (In 2020, one person pressed the button 30 times a day for 90 days.) And 30% of the complaints were of planes overhead that didn’t even land or take off at East Hampton. Are 10 people creating a “crisis” to sway the town?

“It’s Time to Take Action and Close the East Hampton Airport!”

OPINION: OK, this is an opinion. Those publishing the flyer have their right to it. But it is incorrect to say that now is the time. If the town now has the right to close the airport, that is the beginning of the time they could act to do so. The town is angry that its restrictions of 2015 got shot down. In my book, it is never a good idea to do anything important while angry.

Here are other things being bandied about that are incorrect.

“We Must Create a Sanctuary for Birds and Other Animals. They Are Terrified by the Noise at the Airport.”

FACT: An eastern bluebird recovery program is at the airport. Bluebirds are endangered. Since the beginning of 2016, according to nature columnist Larry Penny, the airport’s yearly eastern bluebird production has averaged more than 100 per year. Also found on the airport grounds are eagles, hawks, deer, turkeys and foxes, all apparently undeterred by any noise emanating from the airport.

“The Townspeople Want the Airport Closed.”

FACT: Not the people I’ve spoken to. Everyone I’ve asked says keep it open but make it less noisy. Maybe there should be a referendum. We had one in 1989 when the town supervisor asked the townspeople to do just that about the design of the airport terminal.

Now, however, Supervisor Van Scoyoc and his board will decide whether to close the airport. They’ve got an election coming in November. So it’s politics.

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