U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin has criticized the Federal Aviation Administration for supporting a temporary restraining order blocking East Hampton Town’s newly adopted airport restrictions from taking effect.
The new laws, adopted by the board in April, were designed to try to alleviate noise after years of complaints from residents on both forks.
On Friday, Mr. Zeldin said the FAA is not honoring its prior commitment to the town when it requested the injunction, which was sought in a lawsuit filed by a contingent of aviation businesses who say the laws will harm them financially.
In 2012, the FAA sent a letter to former U.S. Representative Tim Bishop that stated it would not take negative action against the town if it imposed reasonable restrictions at the airport.
“I am extremely disappointed by the seeming reversal of the FAA’s long-standing position that they would not oppose the Town of East Hampton’s effort to protect quality of life and reduce noise,” Mr. Zeldin said in a statement last week. “Though they have not officially taken a position on the merits of East Hampton’s proposals, the FAA’s support for a temporary restraining order speaks volumes as the residents of the East End, once again, brace for another travel season.”
According to Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, during a May 18 federal court hearing regarding the injunction, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert W. Schumacher II, on behalf of the FAA, said that the FAA disagrees with the legal significance of the letter to Mr. Bishop in which the federal agency said it would not intervene if the town set flight restrictions at the airport.
He added that the letter does not waive the FAA’s ability to seek an injunction or to enforce anything under the appropriate regulation. “It is simply a response to a hypothetical posed by Congressman Bishop,” Mr. Schumacher said.
In 2005, the FAA waived some grant obligations that were set to expire in 2021, settling a lawsuit filed by the Committee To Stop Airport Expansion, which focused on noise impacts resulting from operations at the airport. Federal grants obligated the town to abide by FAA rules at the airport, but the FAA agreed to allow key assurances to expire at the end of December 2014. This cleared the way for the Town Board to move forward with setting curfews on takeoffs and landings at the airport, and limiting access by certain types of aircraft considered the worst noise generators, like helicopters.
The town’s newly adopted 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. These rules would affect most helicopters and some older jets.
Following the passage of the restrictions in April, the contingent of aviation business, which call themselves “Friends of the East Hampton Airport,” sued the town in opposition and requested a TRO and preliminary injunction, which could last until the court makes a ruling on the case. The hearing on the injunction will continue on Monday, June 8. Until then, the town has agreed to hold off on implementing the rules.
The FAA, during the first day of the hearing on May 18, supported the TRO but did not explain why.
“It appears that the FAA was looking for additional time to decide where it will be on the merits of the East Hampton [rules],” Mr. Zeldin said last week. “If so, I would point out that the proposals have been public for months, so there is no excuse to need more time to decide on the merits of the [rules] as if they have been released for the first time. Furthermore, the FAA had indicated in writing in the past that they would not take negative action against East Hampton Town for proposing reasonable restrictions.”
On Wednesday, May 20, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell sent a letter to Senator Charles Schumer asking for his help in encouraging the FAA to respect the assurances it gave Mr. Bishop in 2012—that it would not take action against the town if it were to implement airport regulations.
“These recent statements to the court … are troubling,” Mr. Cantwell said in his letter referring to the FAA.