By Kathryn G. Menu
The East Hampton Town Board is expected to vote Thursday on whether to pursue making an application to the Federal Aviation Administration that if approved would allow the town to impose flight restrictions at the East Hampton Airport.
During a work session on Tuesday, the board appeared unified that pursuing the application, which requires a lengthy and expensive study, was the town’s last recourse in trying to protect residents from noise impacts generated at the town-owned airport.
Last month, town officials gathered stakeholders and the public for a handful of sessions with Bill O’Connor, an attorney with the law firm Morrison Foerster — the firm the town has tapped to help guide it through what is called a Part 161 study.
According to Mr. O’Connor, the study could cost between $1.5 and $2 million, and may take two to three years to complete. If the FAA does not accept the first draft of the study, those costs could increase by millions, with a second draft taking years more to complete.
Among other things, the town must show in its study that proposed regulations would not have overly adverse impacts on airport users, and would not discriminate against a particular type of aircraft. Only Naples, Florida has been successful in convincing the FAA to allow restrictions at its airport — for “Stage 2” jets — while Los Angeles International Airport and Burbank-Glendale Pasadena Airport were unsuccessful in their applications, which cost millions to pursue.
However, Mr. O’Connor did note that East Hampton may be viewed differently by the FAA as its airport is not a large commercial airport where restrictions could have broad economic impacts for a number of commercial airline carriers, but owns a general aviation airport largely used by private interests.
The Part 161 study is the town’s last avenue to provide relief for residents in East Hampton and beyond who are impacted by airport noise. While curfews, put into place in 2015, were upheld in federal court, a federal appeals court ruled last fall that the town should have completed a Part 161 study as required by the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 if it was going to impose curfews at the airport. The appeals court decision did not discuss the appropriateness of the curfews specifically.
“As you know, it was the second circuit court of appeals that said in order to move forward with restrictions — in order to get meaningful noise relief for our community and really for the whole East End, we need to follow the ANCA process,” said board member Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the board’s liaison to the East Hampton Airport. “I am recommending we move forward with the 161 application.”
“I agree with Kathee,” said board member Peter Van Scoyoc. “This is the next logical step in seeking meaningful relief.”
“I agree,” said board member Sylvia Overby.
“I think we are in agreement then,” said Supervisor Larry Cantwell.
During its Thursday night meeting, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. at East Hampton Town Hall on Pantigo Road, the board is expected to adopt a resolution moving forward with the study, and increasing its legal fees with Morrison Foerster by $100,000, to an amount not to exceed $150,000.
“If approved the next step is to develop an RFP for the economic consultant … We know the next step would be to define the scope of reasonable restrictions to bring noise relief to members of our community,” said Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, advocating for more public sessions that draw stakeholders together to discuss what those restrictions look like.