East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the town airport could eventually close if officials cannot wrest control of the facility from the federal government to continue its efforts to reduce air traffic noise.
“If the noise impact continues to grow, not just in East Hampton but in other parts of the East End, then the pressure and the community’s uprising will only grow, and it will force this issue to a head,” Cantwell said at a recent town board meeting. “The ultimate outcome of that could be, could be the closing of the airport.”
Cantwell and other board members said Thursday that it was not their goal to shut down the Wainscott airport before voting 4-1 to hire a law firm that helped the city of Santa Monica, California, gain the right to shutter its airport by the end of 2028.
There are about 15,000 takeoffs and landings each summer at the Wainscott airport.
Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said Morrison & Foerster LLP — which has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and several other cities around the world — was picked for its track record of gaining local control, but that “everything is on the table” after pilot Kathryn Slye asked whether the firm was chosen “based upon its respective ability to close the East Hampton Airport.”
Morrison & Foerster will serve as counsel for a Part 161 airport study, the first step in requesting that the Federal Aviation Administration allow local airport noise and access restrictions. The board approved spending up to $50,000 on legal fees.
Cantwell described the study — which will include an opportunity for public input and a noise analysis of the airport — as “another tool in the toolbox of trying to achieve that goal” of local control.
In April 2015, the town board adopted three airport curfew laws to restrict late-night and early-morning flights. Soon after, a group of aviation allies sued the town, which led to a November federal appeals court decision that nullified the laws.
Officials had already stopped taking FAA funding for the airport. In March, they filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the appeals’ court ruling.
Councilman Fred Overton, who voted against hiring the law firm, said he didn’t want his name on any resolution that could be seen as leading to the airport’s closure down the line.
“In my mind the only answer, the only way, we’re going to solve the helicopter noise issue and satisfy the noise-affected community is to close the airport in my estimation,” Overton said. “Do I want to do that? Absolutely not.”
Jeff Smith, vice president of the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council, which has previously opposed airport restrictions, declined to comment on the board’s statements but said “we continue to mitigate noise the best we can.”
Cantwell’s comments were welcome news for Patricia Currie, who has called for the airport’s closure with the group Say No to KHTO, a reference to the airport’s aviation code.
“That’s the wisest quote I’ve heard from the board in a long time,” Currie said. “The only thing to do to save such a huge number of people from this assault is to close the airport.”
Kathy Cunningham, chairwoman of the Wainscott-based Quiet Skies Coalition, a community organization seeking limits on airport noise, said the idea of closing the airport gave her “a heavy heart” because she doesn’t want to punish pilots who “are really trying to be good neighbors.”
“I was hoping to find some way to peacefully coexist,” she said.