East Hampton Town officials now say just 5 acres of land at the edges of East Hampton Airport’s runways needs to be cleared of hazardous trees—not the 21 acres that had originally been estimated, a figure that drew harsh criticism from environmental groups.
And officials say that the largest area of tree removal will be done selectively, rather than the initial plan for clear-cutting.
“We spent countless hours at our [Airport Management Advisory Committee] meetings and with outside consultants identifying the tree protrusions that are a potential risk, and we’ll be able to target those obstructions that present just the most immediate safety concerns,” Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the Town Board’s liaison on the airport, said this week. “While operational safety is our primary concern, we are deeply committed to limiting the environmental impacts.”
The tree removal will now be done in two phases, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said. The first will take place later this winter and will involve pushing the tree line at the far northwestern end of the airport’s main runway and taxiway back by about 20 feet. Currently, the largest jets that use the airport in summer—a Gulfstream G-650, for example, has a wingspan of 100 feet—nearly clip the trees with their wingtips as they roll up the taxiway.
The total area that will be cleared completely will be 20 feet wide and about 1,000 feet long, about a half acre in total, airport manager Jim Brundige said.
The town will be able to clear trees only until March 15, when Eastern bluebirds that live in 10 bluebird houses erected on the airport property will begin returning to nest.
After the summer, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said, the town will tackle the main obstruction areas at the eastern end of the main runway, east of Daniels Hole Road.
The councilwoman said that the plan is to do as much selective clearing as possible, removing only those trees that are tall enough to threaten to pierce the safety zone for planes approaching the airport in the next several years, rather than removing all the trees.
When their removal was first proposed in September in response to a nationwide directive from the Federal Aviation Administration on flight path obstructions, town planners had proposed clear-cutting swaths of trees, 21 acres in all, because it would be cheaper.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said that the town’s airport consultants are still working on a final map of the areas that need obstructions cleared and on determining the cost of the two removal phases.
The town this week also approved an additional $200,000 in bonding for capital projects planning, adding to the $500,000 already borrowed for the work. The money will go to consultants and engineers who are studying the airport facilities and designing improvement plans, like the ongoing examination of the airport’s runway and tarmac pavement and plans to extend the main taxiway.