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FAA says East Hampton can use airport revenue for litigation

Planes on the tarmac at East Hampton Airport

Planes on the tarmac at East Hampton Airport on May 11, 2017. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Federal Aviation Administration has ruled that East Hampton can use airport revenue to fund a legal defense in a 2015 suit stemming from laws aimed at curbing noise at East Hampton Airport, according to a town statement released Tuesday.

A March 26 ruling by the federal agency stated that the town’s use of airport revenue to litigate operational issues at the Wainscott airport — including addressing noise complaints — did not violate grant assurance agreements with the FAA.

Airport revenue may be used for operating costs of an airport, which includes fees “related to airport-related legal issues,” the ruling stated.

Town officials said Tuesday that litigation expenses are projected to be about $2 million. The airport’s 2017 revenue was $4,280,579.

Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, former liaison to the airport, said the agency’s ruling “validated what we have known all along — the town has every right to use airport revenue to take legal actions or defend against them.”

The National Business Aviation Association, a Washington-based aviation advocate, and several aviation companies filed a Part 16 complaint with the FAA in May 2015 alleging the town violated the agency’s revenue diversion bylaws.

The complaint was filed after East Hampton adopted laws in April 2015 that included curfews for noisy aircraft and trip limits on aircraft deemed to make excessive noise. The laws were overturned in a November 2016 ruling by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2017 denied the town’s petition to review the lower court’s ruling.

The aviation association, which joined Friends of the East Hampton Airport and other companies in suing the town over the laws, argued in the complaint that East Hampton “is obligated to draw upon general funds and its tax base and not airport funds if it is to pursue an anti-airport agenda.”

Officials at the association did not return requests for comment Tuesday, nor did representatives from Friends of the East Hampton Airport.

Airport manager Jim Brundige declined to comment Tuesday.

East Hampton Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said that while the airport serves “an important role in transportation on the East End, the facility “nonetheless impacts the quality of life for numerous residents because of noise from aircraft, particularly helicopters.”

“The ability to enact reasonable local laws, such as an overnight airport curfew — and defend them in court — is key to striking a balance that allows the airport to remain open under local control while also considering the needs of town residents,” Van Scoyoc said.

Teresa McCaskie, chairwoman of the Southold Town Helicopter Advisory Committee, called the agency’s ruling “welcoming news” and “a huge victory” for the East Hampton Town Board.

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