East Hampton Airport Restrictions Postponed for Three Weeks



By Mara Certic

Three airport regulations, which were meant to go into effect on Tuesday, will not be implemented for at least three more weeks following the request of a federal  judge, the East Hampton Town Board said on Monday.

The board agreed on Monday morning to wait the three weeks that U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert asked for to consider a temporary restraining order  that a group of helicopter operators and their allies filed just days after the town adopted three laws which were designed to mitigate some of the noise buzzing around the East Hampton Airport.

The town has adopted two curfews and a restriction on the number of operations “noisy” aircraft can make per week, as well as a hefty fee and fine schedule which would see first offenders fined $1,000, second-time transgressors paying $4,000 and those caught for a fourth time being banned from the airport for two years.

The Friends of the East Hampton Airport Coalition, a group made up predominately of out-of-state aviation businesses, filed two complaints just days after the town board adopted what many have said is the first real effort to deal with a 20-year-old noise problem. The coalition sought a restraining order t block the restrictions while the case is considered.

On Friday, May 8, the town’s attorneys, Kaplan, Kirsch and Rockwell LLP, submitted a 36-page argument in opposition to the temporary restraining order, along with six separate declarations from Supervisor Larry Cantwell, engineers and lawyers contracted by the town, and local residents.

One of the pillars of the airport supporters’ complaints is that the three regulations will cause irreparable injury to their businesses. The town’s attorneys have argued that the regulations will only affect them financially, and should not be considered irreparable injury: “The injuries plaintiffs claim are purely financial and can be mitigated by changing their way of doing business or through damages. On the other hand, the local laws serve to protect the truly irreplaceable qualities of peace and quiet in the East End—qualities which are the mainstay of the local economy,” the court papers read.

At the request of Judge Joanna Seybert, at a hearing on the restraining order on Monday morning in Central Islip, the town agreed to defer implementing the laws for three weeks to give the court time to rule on a preliminary injunction. Supervisor Cantwell agreed to the delay. A press release from the town board said he felt “it was necessary to respect the judicial process.”

According to the release, Assistant United States Attorney Robert Schumacher appeared on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration and indicated that the FAA also wanted more time to review the suit.  The judge will consider issuing a preliminary injunction on Monday, June 8. The town board will post any updates to the ruling onto htoplanning.com.

Fixing a Hole

At a work session on Tuesday morning, representatives from the town’s engineering firm, Michael Baker International, presented the town board with a list of several important safety improvements needed at the airport, many of which they said could take months to complete

The recommendations include repaving, removal of trees and other obstructions from the flight path, installing a deer fence and an FAA-approved weather system and even some longer-term plans, like the creation of a new fuel farm.

The East Hampton Town Board has been under pressure from airport users to better address these issues of concern. Last month, local pilot Jonathan Sabin penned a petition on moveon.org entitled “Keep the East Hampton Airport Open,” which asked the board to make some much needed improvements to the airport to “prove to us that you are not trying to close the airport.” As of Wednesday, the petition, which describes the town’s approach as “draconian” had 956 signatures.

Mike Waibel, the assistant vice president of Michael Baker International, explained that town has already begun to implement several of the safety improvements, including the weather system, which should be up and running at some point this summer.

“I think the board is anxious to move forward as quickly as we can,” Supervisor Cantwell said to Mr. Waibel. “My message to you guys is: Let’s get going,” he said.