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East Hampton airport supporters, foes work on improvement plans

Helicopters at East Hampton Town Airport in Wainscott

Helicopters at East Hampton Town Airport in Wainscott on Friday, Aug. 6, 2010. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A committee formed to look at operations at East Hampton's town-owned airport -- and to try and bring together aviation supporters and airport noise foes who have been at odds for years -- is starting to find common ground, according to Town Board member Kathee Burke Gonzales.

"Things are moving faster than we expected," she said. "It's been a tremendous education."

Currently, the two sides are working in separate subcommittees, but expect to come together before summer.

"Folks are talking about noise at the airport, but they're not looking to close the airport," Gonzales said. "We want a safe airport, we just need restrictions. It can't go 24/7. We can't have helicopters buzzing over people's homes."

A number of issues have already been identified for possible town board action later this year, she said. One involves paid parking at the airport. That came up when the committee learned some people who park at the airport don't use it. "It's a good place to park. It's plowed out all winter long," Gonzales said. "But some people are parking there and walking to the Hampton Jitney stop in Wainscott."

That effectively turns the small airport parking lot into a park-and-ride center for people who want to take the bus to Manhattan, she said.

Airport improvements are not paid for through town taxes, but from money from airport-related sources such as landing fees, rentals and contracts to supply fuel and other services.

One big issue that is expected to be dealt with later this year is the rehabilitation of airport runway 4-22, the 2,500-foot-long runway now used only as a taxiway. The runway is cracked, and airport officials fear debris could be sucked into a jet engine.

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