By Stephen J. Kotz
East Hampton Town’s effort to control traffic at East Hampton Airport was dealt a blow on Friday when a federal appeals court threw out a pair of curfews the town board had imposed in June 2015.
A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Friday, November 4, overturned a ruling made last year by Federal District Court Justice Joanna Seybert that had allowed the town to impose the curfews, pending the outcome of a suit challenging those restrictions that had been filed by pilots groups and other airport users.
The main curfew banned all flights between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. seven days a week. A second curfew, from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m., was set for “noisy” aircraft that don’t meet the stricter sound standards of more modern jets and helicopters.
“The Town of East Hampton is deeply disappointed in the Second Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision to enjoin the town’s three local laws regarding access restrictions at East Hampton Airport,” said town attorney Michael Sendlenski in a statement released on Friday afternoon. “The court’s opinion undermines local control of operations at the town-owned airport property and establishes that the federal bureaucracy controls regulations in the area of aviation noise abatement and control.”
But Kent Feuerring, the president of a pilots group, cheered the ruling. “The East Hampton Aviation Association appreciates the hard work and careful consideration by the court in issuing its ruling,” he said in a statement.
“Aviation has been an integral part of our community for more than 80 years, and we hope this ruling will allow that tradition to continue,” he added. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Town of East Hampton and the community to find reasonable solutions for any airport noise related concerns.”
The court’s ruling was roundly criticized by airport opponents. “I’m shocked,” said Kathleen Cunningham, the chairwoman of the Quiet Skies Coalition, a group that has long lobbied the town for tighter rules overseeing the airport, which over the past 25 years has grown from a small facility used mostly by small planes to one used by ever larger private jets and commuter helicopters. “This is very disappointing.”
In a release issued on Monday, Ms. Cunningham described the ruling as “a huge loss for aircraft noise-affected communities island-wide.” She added, “We’ll have to go back to the drawing board to begin working on real solutions to the environmental challenges this airport causes.”
The Quiet Skies Coalition said the ruling would encourage more airport traffic, which has continued to rise in recent years as commuter services become popular and less costly.
A newly formed organization, Say No to KHTO, which has called for the airport to be shut down and replaced with environmentally friendly uses, also weighed in.
“The current town administration took office with good intentions, but their efforts have failed to quiet it down, now we must close it down,” said Patricia Currie, one of the group’s founders, in a release. “Enough pandering to aviation operators whose claims about ‘safety’ fail to conceal their real motives: unfettered access 24/7/365 and airport expansion.”
Last year, the town adopted three laws aimed at reducing noise complaints that have grown as the airport has become more popular. Those laws were immediately challenged by Friends of the East Hampton Airport Inc., Sound Aircraft Services, and a number of companies that operate helicopter commuter services.
Justice Seybert allowed the town to go forward with the curfews, but she enjoined the town from enforcing a law that would have limited noisy aircraft to one-round trip a week.
The town earlier dropped a fourth law, which would have limited “touch-and-goes,” during which a plane lands and immediately takes off. Touch-and-goes are typically performed by student pilots.
The appeals panel ruled that even though the town is no longer accepting federal grant money to help run the airport, it must still follow guidelines established by a 1990 federal law, the Airport Noise and Capacity Act, before it seeks to restrict access to the airport.
It ordered Justice Seybert to not enforce any of the three laws until the rest of the case is heard.