East Hampton Town agreed Monday to refrain from enforcing new restrictions on air traffic at East Hampton Airport for at least three weeks.
U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert heard arguments on Monday on a request by aviation interests for a temporary restraining order against the three local laws that the town adopted in April to address aircraft noise in response to years of complaints from residents.
At the request of Judge Seybert, the town agreed instead to delay implementing the laws until next month to give the court more time to rule on a preliminary injunction. Supervisor Larry Cantwell agreed to the delay, saying it was necessary to respect the judicial process.
Judge Seybert said she would decide on the injunction on June 8. According to the town’s attorney, Peter Kirsch, East Hampton Town officials will not enforce the restrictions until then.
A preliminary injunction would prevent the town from enforcing the airport access restrictions while a lawsuit filed by a coalition of pilots and aviation groups calling themselves Friends of the East Hampton Airport makes its way through the courts. Some say that could take a long time.
“We thought the hearing went reasonably well,” Mr. Kirsch said. “The town is disappointed it had to agree to extending the effective date of the restrictions. But this is the first battle in a lengthy war.”
Several helicopter and aircraft businesses filed a lawsuit against the Town of East Hampton in April for adopting the new restrictions designed to reduce noise generated by air traffic at the airport. In that suit, they requested a temporary restraining order to block the town from putting the restrictions into effect while the case is considered.
According to a press release issued by East Hampton Town, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Schumacher appeared on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration and indicated that the FAA also needed additional time to review the matter. The federal agency last year released the town from certain grant obligations, which allowed them to set local rules at the airport.
According to Mr. Kirsch, Judge Seybert is treating the pilot group’s request as a preliminary injunction until she makes her decision. He said, however, that the judge could set a time limit for how long the restrictions would be blocked from taking effect.
The regulations implement a curfew banning all flights between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., year-round. Aircraft classified as “noisy” are not permitted to take off or land between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m., year-round. Furthermore, aircraft classified as “noisy” are allowed only one takeoff and landing per week between May and September.
The Town Board has instituted a ban all aircraft classified as “noisy,” which would affect most helicopters and some older jets.
Kathleen Cunningham, the chair of the Quiet Skies Coalition, said on Monday that she is disappointed the town’s regulations will be put on hold.
“It’s really a home rule issue, from my point of view,” she said. “The judge listened to the plaintiffs, who were trying to make it seem like we were in violation of an act of Congress. The bottom line is, if a temporary injunction is granted on June 8, it will be a summer of hell, and it could take a year to resolve these cases, and we will have nothing at all.
“It would really be just too bad … it was right there.”
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. called a meeting with the East End supervisors and mayors on Friday, hoping to coordinate ways the towns and villages could aid East Hampton Town in its legal battles regarding its new airport access restrictions.
Mr. Thiele said on Monday that several elected officials across the East End have been talking about having such a discussion which prompted him to call the meeting to address what could be done.
“They feel like they have a stake in this issue,” Mr. Thiele said. “There is a general feeling amongst local governments that they should be supporting and helping East Hampton. The question is how it should be done, and obviously they want to do it in a way that helps East Hampton.”
Although no final determination was made, town and village officials agreed to have their respective town and village attorneys have a meeting to discuss what the best course of action should be.
According to Mr. Thiele, the towns and villages could either provide affidavits or evidence supporting the town or it could intervene in the lawsuit themselves.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said there was some discussion about how important the restrictions are and how the litigation could affect the well-being of all the communities represented.
“It’s very important,” Mr. Cantwell said. “Obviously their primary concern is for their communities and my priority is for the Town of East Hampton, but there is enough shared concern on the East End to support our effort.”
Jim Dougherty, the supervisor of Shelter Island Town, said the officials came to a “preliminary serious consensus” to actively explore their options.
“It highlights something that Shelter Island feels—that this is a regional issue that goes far beyond the noise and immediate airport area,” he said. “Noise from helicopters and planes flying to and from Manhattan last summer adversely affected Shelter Island.”