The East Hampton Town Board made some crucial decisions on the future of East Hampton Airport this week.
In its fifth discussion over a year of alternatives for the airport’s runway configuration and facilities, the board on Tuesday agreed on the parameters for the airport’s long awaited master plan.
The board agreed the plan should call for completely eliminating one of the airport’s three runways, see a new taxiway constructed linking two existing taxiways, expand airplane parking areas and add an air traffic control tower in the busy spring and summer months in hopes its controllers can restrict the traffic path to reduce noise impacts on residential areas.
Many aspects of master plan still must be analyzed to determine the full costs, implications of noise impacts and feasibility of some of the hoped-for alternatives.
With planning consultant Lisa Liquori and airport manager Jim Brundige, the board ticked off a list of changes, subractions and additions to the airport property on Tuesday afternoon, including the elimination of one runway, known as 16-34. The board decided that all of the 2,400-foot runway would be returned to “natural conditions” rather than being transformed into a taxiway; the space will be used to expand the airplane parking area near the airport terminal.
The elimination of 16-34 would mean that the 2,200-foot runway known as 4-22, now closed due to its aged and cracked surface, would become the airport’s secondary runway, as small-plane pilots have long requested because Runway 22 favors the prevailing southwest winds in summertime.
The elimination of Runway 16-34 will allow the town to develop additional light industrial lots along the north boundary of the airport property, in the approach path to Runway 34, and free some of the existing industrial buildings from height restrictions currently made necessary by the presence of the runway.
The master plan will include a proposal to extend Runway 4-22 by some 500 feet to the northeast, allowing planes more room to take off and gain altitude before flying over houses off the southwest corner of the airport property. Landing aircraft would not be allowed to use the extra 500 feet of runway because the runway.
Such a “displaced threshold,” as the FAA calls it, would “gives us the benefit of them taking off sooner but landing in the same place,” Mr. Hammerle said of the idea of lengthening the runway only for takeoffs, which would require relocating Daniels Hole Road, the costs of which have not yet been estimated. The entire runway also will have to be repaved.
Under the plan agreed to, a new taxiway will be constructed, running parallel to the entire length of the airport’s main runway, known as 10-28, and linking two unconnected ends of what’s known as Taxiway A.
The board also agreed to formally start exploring the costs of establishing a control tower at the airport. The tower has been estimated to cost upward of $400,000 a year, even if operated only during the six busiest months of the year. Envisioned as a trailer to be parked at the south edge of the property, it would result in a change in the classification of East Hampton’s airspace that would allow contracted controllers to dictate the direction from which planes and helicopters could depart and approach the airport.
Current voluntary flight paths, intended to minimize the number of residential neighborhoods over which helicopters fly when approaching or departing the airport, have been only moderately effective at funneling traffic over undeveloped areas. If the airport became controlled airspace, any aircraft that deviated from flight paths would be in violation of Federal Aviation Administration rules.
“I think it’s essential for us to have something like this,” Supervisor Bill McGintee said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We can displace thresholds but pilots can do whatever they want. They can turn and fly over neighborhoods. If there is a tower, they can’t do that.”
The board will have to contract for an environmental impact statement to be drafted for the plan and hold a public hearing on the master plan itself at an undetermined date before it can be adopted.
More immediately, the board resolved to use $40,000 from the airport’s funding reserves to complete the purchase of an AWOS automatic weather broadcasting system, an upgrade Mr. Brundige said is urgently necessary for safety. The board had already designated $80,000 for the system but needs to allocate additional funds to extend a power source to the machine at the center of the airport property.