Judge rejects challenge to airport plan

The new seasonal control tower at East Hampton The new seasonal control tower at East Hampton Airport. The control tower will take control of the airspace up to 2,500 feet above the runways, bringing the busy airport under FAA control for the first time. Town officials say noise complaints about the airport should drop dramatically. Photo Credit: Handout

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A legal challenge to East Hampton Airport's master plan -- one that could have voided years of study and stopped plans for future development -- has been rejected by a State Supreme Court judge.

In his 11-page ruling, Justice John J.J. Jones Jr. rejected seven specific legal challenges to the master plan as well as general complaints that East Hampton Town failed to take a legally required "hard look" at future noise problems, the environmental impact of clearing trees and future changes in airport use.

He also rejected an argument by airport opponents that by accepting the master plan, the town would subject itself to FAA mandates that would keep the airport running at its current level for 20 years and bar the town from reducing operations there.

Jones noted that the Airport Layout Plan -- part of the master plan -- would allow the town to apply for FAA funds which, as a matter of law, come with a "grant assurance" requiring the town to give up for 20 years its power to ban certain types of aircraft based on the noise they produce.

But, he wrote, municipal airports that do not take such federal money retain the power to set limits on days and hours of airport operations, restrict the number of aircraft using the airport, and exclude certain types of aircraft based on noise.

Reaction to the decision was mixed, in a town where aviation supporters and opponents have been fighting for a decade.

"It clears the air," town Councilman Dominick Stanzione said. "It finally settles a lot of claims made by airport opponents that had the effect of starving the airport [of revenue] . . . Now we can move forward with a rational, responsible airport plan that is financially responsible and will ultimately lead to quieter skies."

The East Hampton Aviation Association said the court ruling "ends a 20-year battle."

But Jeffrey L. Bragman, attorney for The Committee to Stop Airport Expansion, which filed the Article 78 proceeding challenging the airport master plan, said he expected to appeal. "Appeals can be filed in a few weeks. Perfecting an appeal can take months," he said.

He said several provisions in the highly technical decision showed promising grounds for an appeal, particularly the way the town measured aircraft noise.

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