East Hampton Airport Conversion Plan Postponed to May

East Hampton Airport
East Hampton Airport
Oliver Peterson

Town of East Hampton officials postponed temporarily closing East Hampton Airport to reopen it as a private facility after meeting with the Federal Aviation Administration and three lawsuits were filed to block the move.

The town board voted Thursday to delay by two months the airport’s transition, bumping the closure from February 28 to May 17, and shortened the closure from four days to less than two, with it scheduled to reopen at 9 a.m. May 19. Town officials did not say if the lawsuits factored into rerouting the plan, but the board did appear to address some environmental issues raised in court filings. The town did, however, appear to have cleared the air with the FAA, which had warned two weeks ago that the town’s prior plan could take up to two years.

“The town and the FAA discussed a new timeline, which is acceptable to both parties, for the closure of the public-use airport and the opening of the private-use airport,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said while reading text of the resolution after the board met in executive session to discuss airport matters and accept advice of counsel. The timeline includes “phasing in the services desired by the town, including tower operation and instrument approach procedures for airport users.”

The town board had unanimously approved on January 20 the measure to convert the airport to use using what’s known as a prior permission required framework, meaning the town could enact flight curfews and limit or ban certain types of aircraft such as jets or helicopters. Van Scoyoc had said the move was aimed at addressing neighbors’ noise complaints and environmentalists’ pollution concerns, but business leaders have warned that closure could negatively impact the local economy.

The FAA had warned the town that the initial timeline may not give the agency enough time to approve the air traffic control tower, among other guidance systems, to be used at the airport following its conversion. Asked to verify Van Scoyoc’s assertion that the delay gives the FAA the time it needs, the agency said in a statement that it “is working closely with the Town of East Hampton so all federal regulations are followed to ensure the safety of the airspace. We are committed to working collaboratively to complete this.” The agency will still need to complete an aeronautical study, but the town indicated that the revised timeline syncs up with the FAA’s in doing so.

Erin King-Sweeney, an aviation attorney who is executive director of the pro-airport East Hampton Community Alliance, welcomed the delay.

“East Hampton Community Alliance applauds the decision of the Town Board to delay the closure of HTO,” she said, referring to the airport by its code. “We remain hopeful that productive discussions with the Town and airport users can avoid any type of closure and be the basis for a new future for HTO and our community.”

The delay came after nonprofit advocacy group The Coalition to Keep East Hampton Airport Open, airport subcontractors such as East End Hangars, Inc. and charter flight booking app Blade filed three lawsuits this week against the town in bids to block the plan. Several local residents were also named as plaintiffs in the suits.

Among the allegations in the lawsuits was the claim that the town did not properly perform an environmental review of the transition under the New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The town appeared to address that claim Thursday when it passed a resolution to have its environmental consultants perform a supplemental SEQRA review of the move. A town attorney did not immediately return a request for comment.

Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokeswoman for the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, called for a cease fire in the litigation.

“For everyone’s best interests, we ask that all sides stop filing lawsuits and implore the town not to rush ahead with their misguided plans to close the airport,” she said. “Instead, we suggest that all of the impacted parties come together to find a solution that works for all.”

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