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East Hampton sued over sharp spikes in airport fees

Helicopters sit on the tarmac at East Hampton

Helicopters sit on the tarmac at East Hampton Town Airport in Wainscott, Aug. 6, 2014. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

An airport-based fuel reseller is suing East Hampton after the town board approved hefty increases in fees for landing and refueling.

Sound Aircraft Services Inc., based at the East Hampton Airport, said in a lawsuit filed Oct. 2 in Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead that the town board broke Federal Aviation Administration rules when it raised the fees.

Town board members voted 5-0 on June 5 to raise the fees paid by landing aircraft by 10 percent, to amounts ranging from $11 for single-engine propeller planes to $660 for 50,000-pound, multiengine aircraft, according to the town's website.

On June 19, the board voted 4-1 to double the fuel fee to 30 cents per gallon. The fee is paid by Sound Aircraft Services and Myers Aero Fuels, which sell aircraft fuel from a town-owned storage facility.

Town board members said the fuel fee had not increased since 1992. Supervisor Larry Cantwell voted against the hike, saying he thought the fee should increase gradually.

Cantwell said via a spokeswoman Tuesday that he could not comment on litigation.

Cindy Herbst, owner of Sound Aircraft Services, said in public meetings that the hike would raise her fuel costs by $100,000 per year, if she continues to sell the same amount of fuel, and would force her to lay off some of her 15 employees.

Sound Aircraft Services wants the court to reverse the hikes, which the suit calls "arbitrary and capricious." The filing said the fuel-fee hike altered the company's lease with the town and that the town did not adequately notify companies.

A town budget committee estimated that the two airport-based firms made $1.4 million in profit by selling fuel in 2013, and the 15-cent fuel fee represented only 2.4 percent of the companies' net revenue from fuel sales.

Herbst challenged that analysis, according to the lawsuit.

She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Alison Squiccimarro, the company's Manhattan-based attorney, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

East Hampton, under pressure from residents to reduce noise from helicopter traffic, is considering making the airport financially independent from the federal government in a bid to gain more control over airport operations. In 2001, the town accepted a $1.4 million FAA grant for airport repairs. Some of those contractual obligations expire Dec. 31.

The budget committee concluded in May that the airport could generate enough revenue to fund $5.1 million to $8.5 million in capital projects without FAA grants, which come with contractual obligations that limit local control of traffic.

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