Town Votes to Temporarily Close East Hampton Airport, Sets Stage for New Rules

East Hampton Airport
All eyes are on East Hampton Airport. (Photo by Barbara Lassen)

The East Hampton Town Board voted Thursday to close the East Hampton Airport for several days so that when it reopens, the town can enact new rules on flights to and from the airport.

The town board unanimously approved the measure to deactivate the airport on February 28 and then reopen it on March 4 as a private use airport using what’s known as a prior permission required framework, meaning the town will have greater control over aircraft using the facility as well as arrival and departure times.

“We are embarking on an important step in the town’s efforts to address aircraft noise, traffic,  and other environmental and safety concerns in East Hampton,” said Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. “Operation of a private-use airport will enable us to review and analyze potential changes to airport operations and make adjustments to address long-held community concerns.”

The move follows a long-standing debate over the airport. The town had been barred from enacting restrictions until Federal Aviation Administration grant assurances expired in September. Environmentalists and neighbors complaining about noise called for its closure, while business leaders said that doing so would negatively impact the local economy

Options for new regulations may include curfews, limiting aircraft based on noise level, enacting restrictions on aircraft that use leaded fuel, and potentially limiting or banning certain types of aircraft such as jets, helicopters or seaplanes, with rules adjusted on an as-needed basis, town officials said.

Erin King-Sweeney, executive director of the pro-airport East Hampton Community Alliance, reiterated her concern with the change.

“We have been and remain strongly opposed to any so-called temporary closure because of all the risks associated with it,” she said. “I think it’s an aggressive timeline, even in the easiest of cases … to try to open an airport. Our understanding is that it takes a heck of a lot more time to open an airport … than three days. There’s a lot of procedural work to overcome and I’m not sure that the contemplated timeline has fully addressed those hurdles.”

The Eastern Region Helicopter Council said the move will shift the problems to other local airports.

“East Hampton Town’s reliance on faulty legal advice to close the East Hampton Airport without a realistic plan to have it re-open is misguided, reckless and will ultimately prove disastrous for the surrounding communities,” said Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokeswoman for the group. “Closing the East Hampton Airport will not only further harm the local economy and potentially delay emergency responders, but also force helicopters and other aviation to other local airports. This diverted air traffic to the other airports will not only exacerbate noise concerns and hectic air traffic but also further exacerbate the already overcrowded roads.”

FAA representatives did not immediately comment on the news.

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