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Jan 9, 2018 4:35 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Kathee Burke-Gonzalez Hands Off Oversight Of East Hampton Airport

Jan 9, 2018 5:28 PM

Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez announced on Tuesday that she will step out of her four-year role as the Town Board’s liaison to the East Hampton Airport—a position that she said consumed 90 percent of her workday for the first two years she was on the board.

In stepping aside, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez will hand off oversight of the airport to two of her colleagues, Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman Jeff Bragman—both of whom have histories opposing improvements at the airport that could be seen as facilitating more air traffic.

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, who won reelection to another four-year term in November, said that in her second term she wants to focus her efforts more on improving the human services of the town, overseeing the construction of a new senior center and spearheading a mental health and substance abuse program for the town’s youth with school administrators.

“I’ve been so consumed with the airport that I haven’t been able to do as much as I’d like to do on other projects—and these other projects need to get done,” Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session in Montauk. “I want to focus on the human side of government. We need the senior center, we need the ER. I was at a South Fork Behavioral Health Initiative and I went up to Adam Fine [the East Hampton High School principal] and said, ‘What can we do?’ and we’re going to be forming a task force to work on that.”

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and Ms. Overby applauded Ms. Burke-Gonzalez’s work with the airport through the tumultuous efforts to craft restrictions on flights to address noise impacts on residents and the years of legal battles that ensued.

“I want to thank you for taking on one of the most difficult jobs that we face in the town,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “You [worked] very hard to strip away a lot of the myth that had surrounded the issue.”

During her first two years in office, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez spearheaded the board’s drafting of the landmark restrictions on flights that imposed curfews through two summer seasons in 2015 and 2016, but also sparked lawsuits that cost the town millions to defend, ultimately unsuccessfully.

She also oversaw a huge expansion in airport revenues, through increased landing fees and higher lease rates for industrial properties along the airport’s fringes, and millions in spending on improvements to airport facilities.

The board recently approved bonding more than $2 million to connect two taxiways that parallel the main runway and has a $1 million new fuel farm in the works. The board is also discussing whether to raise the airport’s control tower to give controllers better sight lines to incoming aircraft.

With the lawsuits over and the town about to embark on a years-long application to the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to again impose curfews and other restrictions on flights, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said, the timing was right to hand the chore over to others.

Ms. Overby voted against the taxiway bond, saying she worried it would make it possible for more aircraft to use the airport at a time when the town’s expressed goal is to reduce flights, and also expressed skepticism about the proposed improvements to the control tower.

Mr. Bragman, an attorney, once represented neighbors who opposed the town’s airport management plan, and he cast himself during the fall campaign as steeped in experience in trying to rein in aircraft traffic.

Neither hinted on Tuesday at how they would approach their new liaison roles with regard to the airport’s future planning.

“It takes two to pick up where you were just one,” Ms. Overby said to Ms. Burke-Gonzalez on Tuesday. “I’m calling it co-parenting.”

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