Last week’s postponement of a public hearing on proposed restrictions on operations at the East Hampton Airport gave opponents of the new rules an additional week to campaign against them.
On Saturday, March 8, Friends of the East Hampton Airport, an organization that is fighting the restrictions, dropped fliers on residents’ doorsteps in an attempt to mobilize opponents of the East Hampton Town Board’s effort to limit airport operations—a plan that is intended to alleviate noise from the airport, following years of complaints.
The flier charges that “East Hampton is under attack” and warns that the proposed restrictions would be “a punch in the gut to the local economy,” amounting to lost jobs, local businesses closing, millions of dollars of economic activity lost, higher property taxes, and lower property values. It urges residents to attend the public hearing—rescheduled for Thursday, March 12, at 4:30 p.m. at LTV Studios in Wainscott—to voice their disapproval of the plan.
“We need you to join the fight to protect our town by attending and speaking at the Town Board hearing … Please call 10 friends, family members or neighbors and ask them to support the airport,” the flier states, adding that the new rules would be an “assault on hard-working East Hampton locals.”
If the Town Board approves the restrictions, there would be a curfew banning all flights between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., year-round. Aircraft labeled as “noisy” would face a stricter curfew and not be permitted to take off or land from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. year-round. There would be a complete ban on helicopter operations during holidays and weekends between May 1 and September 30, and more limits on “noisy” aircraft, which would be allowed only one takeoff and landing per week between May and September.
Although the proposed restrictions target helicopters and other noisy aircraft and would not affect most small, recreational planes, some pilots say they are concerned that if the laws are adopted, the reduction in air traffic could prove to be too costly for the airport, which is self-funded. They contend that lost business and revenue might cause the Town Board to eventually levy a tax on residents to maintain it, or even close it.
“If restrictions go in place, the airport is going to close,” said Rod Davidson, a Bridgehampton resident and recreational pilot who owns a hangar at the East Hampton Airport. “It won’t be able to sustain what needs to happen. We’re a resort community. We need to facilitate a way for people to get to us and spend money. The airport is a huge asset for that. We have to try to recover from this winter that we’ve had.”
Mr. Davidson, who owns a car care company in Water Mill, said his business would suffer along with others. “Many of our customers use the airport,” he said. “Many of our pilot friends and community members use the airport. All of that stuff gets affected.”
Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesperson for Friends of the East Hampton Airport, said that the fliers distributed on Saturday—he did not say where or how widely—paint an accurate picture of the situation. “If enacted, these bans will have deep and harmful impacts on local small businesses, the local economy, and seriously jeopardize the airport’s future,” he said. “It’s important that residents fully understand the true impact of what the town is proposing and not let the facts be drowned out by a loud but small group of airport opponents.”
One of those opponents is Kathleen Cunningham, an East Hampton resident and chair of the Quiet Skies Coalition. She said that she did not receive a flier at her doorstep, but has seen one of them, and she disputed its statements that the proposed airport restrictions would hurt the local economy and result in a tax increase.
“The claim that taxpayers will have to fund the airport or suffer higher property taxes is wrong and simply meant to scare people,” she said. “Taxpayers do not pay for any portion of airport operations, maintenance or capital improvements. Any claim to the contrary is simply false. The only attack on East Hampton is from helicopter and aircraft noise generated by out-of-state interests who only wish to exploit our sense of native peace and quiet for their own profit. My guess is, that is who is behind these fliers.”