Law Firm To Help Town Weigh Fate of East Hampton Airport

A small private plane taxis on the runway as a helicopter takes off overhead at the East Hampton Airport.

By Stephen J. Kotz

The East Hampton Town Board has hired the international law firm Morrison & Foerster to help it plan for the future of East Hampton Airport. The board on May 18 agreed to pay the firm, which has offices in New York, Los Angeles, and other major cities around the world, to undertake the preliminary work in preparing what is called a Part 161 study.

The study is typically required before a municipality can gain control over an airport from the Federal Aviation Administration, although such efforts have rarely been successful.

Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the town is trying to prepare for the possibility that the United States Supreme Court will not agree to hear its appeal of a federal case that threw out curfews the town imposed in 2015 in an effort to reduce noise complaints being made about the increasing number of helicopters, jets and seaplanes using the airport.

“This is the first step of exploring what the process is and what the potential cost would be,” said Mr. Cantwell. “We’re trying to put the town in the position of being prepared if the Supreme Court should decide not to hear our appeal. The question is ‘then what?’ and the ‘then what?’ is a Part 161.”

Mr. Cantwell said the study would cost much more than the initial $50,000 outlay. He said the law firm had been successful in helping Santa Monica, California, gain control over its airport, but he stressed the town board does not necessarily want to shut down East Hampton Airport, although members have said that could be an option if they cannot hammer out an agreement to provide meaningful noise relief for residents living near the airport in both East Hampton Town and surrounding communities including Sag Harbor, Noyac and other parts of Southampton Town.

The supervisor said town officials are cautiously optimistic that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the town’s appeal of the curfew case. “We know they are at least considering it because they have asked for briefs” from the groups that originally sued the town, he said.

If the Supreme Court does not agree to hear the town’s case or rules against it, the town would be left with the option of the Part 161 study, which could take years and a significant investment to complete.