By Mara Certic
A hearing in Central Islip on Monday morning will determine whether or not restrictions aimed at curbing a regional noise problem emanating from East Hampton Airport go into effect this Tuesday, May 19.
In the meantime, the board on Thursday, May 7, held a hearing and adopted strict fines on those who break proposed airport curfews or violate a restriction limiting the number of operations to two per week for noisy aircraft. The board also agreed to evaluate its airport restrictions after the busy summer season passes.
The proposed fines would be $1,000 for a first violation, $4,000 for a second, $10,000 for a third, and a fourth could see the aviator banned from the airport for two years.
Kathryn Slye, a local pilot, told the board that its fines would not end up affecting large companies, but would instead only harm local aviators such as herself, as an unexpected weather event could theoretically cause delays, forcing an arrival time after the 11 p.m. curfew, incurring a fine. “You’re grounding us,” she said.
“Your first fine will ground us for six months, the second one will ground us for over a year,” she added. Ms. Slye asked the board consider putting in a provision to consider a waiver for locally based pilots who might arrive a few minutes past curfew.
The board had originally intended to implement new airport restrictions it adopted last month on Sunday, May 17, but decided to wait for a judge to rule on a request for a temporary restraining order that was filed by a coalition of pilots and members of the aviation industry.
The Friends of the East Hampton Airport Coalition, a group made up of several out-of-state helicopter companies, the ground and fuel service provider at the airport, and local pilots, sought to block the legislation in federal court soon after the board adopted it in April. The coalition filed two suits, one which claims the town does not have the power to impose restrictions over the airport, and another which maintains the restrictions are arbitrary and discriminatory.
Members of the Quiet Skies Coalition, who for years have advocated for restrictions at the airport, were concerned last week when they got word that the Federal Aviation Administration would support the bid for a temporary restraining order. The town’s aviation attorney, Peter Kirsch, did not share their concerns, stating that in order to get a TRO, the plaintiffs would have to show that the restrictions would cause them irreparable injury.
The hearing on the TRO was scheduled to take place Thursday, May 14, but was postponed until Monday, May 18, because of a change of judge who will be presiding over the case, according to a release issued by Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez on Tuesday afternoon.
“The TRO hearing is limited to the opponents’ arguments that they will be irreparably harmed in the short term while the case is in the courts,” the statement reads.
“The Town Board is confident that it will prevail in the litigation. The town has agreed to postpone enforcement of the local laws until after the hearing,” it continues.
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.
“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.
The document explains why the town has the power to enact restrictions, and says that while the restrictions may affect the business of helicopter operators at one airport, they will not “impair their ability to operate in the other markets and airports they serve, including airports very close to East Hampton.”
The hearing will take place at 10 a.m. on Monday at the United States Courthouse in Central Islip.
At last week’s meeting, supporters of the restrictions asked the board to do more, reconsider the ban on helicopters and hold fast.
Lifelong East Hampton resident Walker Bragman referenced the website of the Friends of the East Hampton Airport which on its homepage says, “Help us save the number-one community for second homes and resorts, by keeping our vital airport open and operating.”
“I have news for you,” Mr. Bragman said, addressing the Friends of the East Hampton Airport. “Second homes should not get priority over only homes.”
“Keep your big government, big Washington hands off my town,” he added to much applause, asking the board to increase the fines and adopt a weekend ban on helicopters that was proposed but later dropped.
Some supporters of the legislation said the town should seek a new attorney because of supposedly contradictory things Mr. Kirsch said when he was advising the previous town administration.
“When your administration took office, he seemed to have flip-flopped,” said East Hampton resident Susan McGraw-Keber, requesting the town seek new counsel. Hers and other comments of concern caused Councilwoman Sylvia Overby to abstain from voting to re-enlist the help of Kaplan, Kirsch and Rockwell, LLP, capping legal fees at $425,000. The other four members voted in favor of the resolution.