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Anti-noise activists form group to close East Hampton airport

Helicopter traffic at the East Hampton Town Airport

Helicopter traffic at the East Hampton Town Airport in Wainscott, Aug. 14, 2014. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A new group has set its sights on closing the East Hampton Town airport in Wainscott so local residents can stop being “tormented by aircraft noise” and the land can be used for “more equitable” and environmentally friendly purposes, according to organizers.

“Traffic at the airport continues to increase every year, and there’s been no meaningful aircraft noise abatement,” said Barry Raebeck, a resident of Wainscott and chairman of Say No to KHTO.

Raebeck, 64, said the group — KHTO is the code name used for the airport by air traffic controllers — wants to explore alternative uses for the 628 acres of town-owned land, such as affordable housing, “low-impact businesses” or parks and recreation.

Raebeck, who co-founded the Quiet Skies Coalition, said that group’s mission differs from the new effort, even though both are focused on fighting airport noise. He said he split from the coalition to help form Say No to KHTO because the coalition sought compromise on the noise issue whereas his new group wants the airport closed.

East Hampton Town Deputy Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said the town does not consider closure an option.

“We know the land under the airport is valuable, but I don’t think closing the airport is something we’d entertain at this point,” he said Tuesday. “We understand that there is frustration that meaningful changes haven’t come at this point, but we’ve been litigating; we’re being sued by airport interests and we’re waiting for judges to make a decision.

“So far the judges have upheld our right to regulate the airport, but we’ve been stymied in making meaningful changes,” Van Scoyoc said about the town’s federal appellate court case. “I completely empathize with those who the noise affects.”

Raebeck said that if the airport were closed, revenue would go into the town’s general fund.

“The town is obliged in perpetuity to dedicate all revenues from airport properties solely to the support of airport operations as long as the property is used as an airport,” Raebeck said, citing Federal Aviation Administration grant agreements.

A spokesman in the town supervisor’s office did confirm the town’s obligations to the airport, but he disputed a claim by Raebeck that the airport is being leased for nonaviation uses at as much as $50,000 per acre. The figure is “more like $34,000 per acre,” he said.

Patricia Currie, a Sag Harbor resident and Say No to KHTO founder, said the town has received less from the FAA than the cost of the estimated $8.2 million Montauk Playhouse reconstruction.

“For a pittance, the town lost control of public lands worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” she said.

The FAA did not immediately provide a comment Tuesday.

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