By Michael Wright
As it moves toward finalizing the design laid out by a new master plan at East Hampton Airport, some members of the East Hampton Town Board last week second-guessed their earlier plans for the closure of one of the airport’s three runways.
At the board’s work session on August 5, board members renewed the debate over which of the two “secondary” runways it should close. The runways, known as 16-34 and 4-22, for the compass headings at their opposite ends, each provide benefits to small plane pilots in different wind directions.
Runway 4-22 runs generally northeast to southwest, allowing small planes to take off into the prevailing summer southwest winds. The runway has been closed for the last two years because its pavement is crumbling. Runway 16-34 runs primarily northwest and southeast, allowing pilots to head into the sometimes stiff northwest winds that prevail in the fall and winter.
At work sessions over the last two months, the board had settled on closing runway 16-34, tearing up its pavement, and restoring runway 4-22, largely at the urging of some of the airport’s small plane pilots.
Closing 16-34 would allow the town to make use of tarmac areas currently too close to the runway to park planes and would free up some of the town-owned light industrial lots near the end of the runway for additional revenue-generating development.
But after meeting with consultants and reviewing aerial photos that show areas of residential development around the airport, some board members have changed their mind and now say that closing 4-22 and keeping 16-34 seems like the better proposal.
“The winter cross winds are stronger and more dangerous,” Supervisor Bill McGintee said during a meeting with board members, airport manager Jim Brundige and master plan consultant Lisa Liquori. “And there is no residential development at either end, just the sand pit” and town-owned open space preserve. “After looking this over, I’ve changed my mind about 4-22.”
Mr. McGintee said that the heading planes take when departing runway 4-22 leads them directly over a large residential development, creating issues of both noise and safety for people on the ground should there be a crash, while 16-34 is bounded by woods and the Wainscott sand and gravel mine. The owners of the pit have said they plan to subdivide the property for residential development someday.
The board had proposed shifting the usable section of runway 4-22 several hundred feet northeastward to allow planes to gain more altitude by the time they fly over the airport boundary to minimize the noise impact on residents below. Councilman Pete Hammerle was the lone voice of doubt about the change of heart about the runways. “We really tried to develop this using the input that we got from users as well as the community,” Mr. Hammerle said of the master plan outline the board has been working on for nearly a year. “There was a pretty strong case made for 4-22 as the preferred small plane runway. None of those folks know about this departure.”
Councilwoman Julia Prince noted that closing 4-22 would save money because the plans to shift the pavement would not be needed.
The board made no decision on which option it would pursue, though Mr. McGintee’s adamant support of the new direction seemed largely supported by the two other board members.
“When you weigh all the factors, this seems to me like a no brainer,” the supervisor said.