An East Hampton Town Board meeting on improvements at the Wainscott airport turned instead to water quality concerns as two properties near the facility were recently found to have high levels of chemicals in their wells.
Board members voted to move forward with a $2.1 million bond to finance connecting two taxiways and replacing lighting despite opposition from residents who didn’t want money spent to expand the airport, which they said may be responsible for contaminated drinking water.
Outgoing East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the water quality issue is unrelated to the taxiway and lighting projects needed to make takeoffs and landings at the airport safer.
“They’re two different things and they’re not tied together,” Cantwell said after his final board meeting as supervisor.
The board also discussed a $750,000 plan to raise the 16-foot airport control tower so staff would have better visibility on foggy days, but didn’t vote on it.
Residents questioned why the town would seek a bond for the improvements when the airport fund had a surplus of $2.7 million. Expected sales of two nearby properties are estimated to add an additional $4.75 million to the fund.
Cantwell said the airport surplus could be used to cover the project’s cost, but the bond ensures the financing is in place.
The plan calls for connecting two taxiways to serve as one continuous span parallel to the airport’s runway. Incandescent lighting would also be replaced with energy efficient LED bulbs. The current taxiway does not conform to Federal Aviation Administration standards, although the upgrade is not required by the federal agency.
“I don’t see why the town board is going to do any bonding for something the FAA doesn’t require. I don’t hear any bonding for public water,” said Wainscott resident Arthur French, whose private well was recently found to contain perfluorinated compounds. He is drinking bottled water provided by the town and limits his showers to less than a minute, he said.
The Suffolk County Department of Health started testing wells after the state Department of Environmental Conservation conducted a survey in which the East Hampton Airport indicated it had used or stored products that may have contained perfluorooctanoic acid and/or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, known respectively as PFOA and PFOS. As of last week, volatile compounds were found in 59 of 167 wells, with two found to contain dangerous levels, officials reported. The DEC is investigating the cause and will present its findings sometime next year. Cantwell said the board is taking the matter seriously, but is awaiting the state’s report.
The board voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution authorizing the taxiway project, with councilwoman Sylvia Overby casting the dissenting vote.
The town also recognized outgoing councilman Fred Overton and Cantwell, who did not seek a third two-year term. First elected town bay constable in 1975, Cantwell served as a town councilman and then town administrator from 1982 until 2013 when he was elected supervisor. Russell Calemmo of the East Hampton Food Pantry presented Cantwell with a plaque featuring an etching of Cantwell’s face.
“I wouldn’t trade this career for any other, and I will be indebted to this community for the rest of my life,” he said.