Judge’s Airport Decision Expected Friday

Takeoff and landing activity at the East Hampton Town Airport on May 22nd, 2015
The East Hampton Town Board has postponed enacting airport restrictions until Judge Joanna Seybert makes her decision on a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order, which she said she would do this Friday. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Mara Certic

 Many residents from Manhattan to Montauk are awaiting the Friday decision of U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert, who said she would rule on a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction filed by members of the aviation industry against the Town of East Hampton.

The town board has so far held off implementing three historic airport restrictions it adopted in April out of respect for the judicial process, but, both times that the judge has postponed her decision, the town board has released statements saying it “remains confident that it will prevail in the litigation.”

Just days after the town board adopted two curfews and a restriction on the number of permitted operations by noisy aircraft at the East Hampton Airport during the summer, a group of helicopter operators and their allies filed two suits and a request for a temporary restraining order against the town. One of the suits claimed the town didn’t have the authority to enact the three restrictions, while another said that the new rules would cause irreparable injury to the airport, the large helicopter charter companies and local aviators.

On the other hand, hundreds of residents from as far away as the North Fork have for years been complaining about the constant noise from low-flying aircraft in and out of the East Hampton Airport at all times of day and night.  Despite attempts to change routes or the promises of the aviation industry to comply with routes and minimum altitudes, some of these residents say that traffic this year is only getting worse.

Kathleen Cunningham, chair of the Quiet Skies Coalition, said this week: “The weekends have been terrible,” this year. “The other day I must have counted 20 flights overhead in as many minutes,” she said.

Jemille Charlton, the East Hampton Airport manager, said this week that so far this season, “It’s been pretty much status quo.” The levels of route- and altitude compliance he said have been relatively high so far this year, but added that the number of complaints is  “still very high.”

“We’re very eager, desperate I might say, for these restrictions to deliver some relief,” Ms. Cunningham said.

Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley preemptively introduced a law on Tuesday that would limit the number of landings at the village’s helipad on Meadow Lane, ahead of Judge Seybert’s decision on Friday.

“The reasoning behind that is that we have had a 44-percent increase as compared to 2014,” Mayor Epley said on Wednesday. “If the East Hampton restrictions are held up in court, then we’ll have a substantial increase, more than 44 percent,” he said.

While the number of complaints hasn’t increased astronomically, Mayor Epley is more concerned about the safety at the heliport.

“Our helipad is located at the end of Meadow Lane—it’s a dead-end, two-lane road,” he explained. “It’s unmanned and cell phones don’t work there. He added that the village, like others on the East End, is supported by volunteer medical services and that increased services would create more of a burden on the area.

Mayor Epley opened and closed the public hearing on the new law last night without a vote on the law, and said he is waiting to hear Judge Seybert’s decision before asking the village board to adopt the new rules. If the judge sides with the town, Mr. Epley said it was likely he would call a special meeting to vote on the law ahead of the regularly scheduled July 9 meeting.

The East Hampton Town Board will post any decisions about the airport to the website htoplanning.com .