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Dec 2, 2011 12:02 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Town Board Agrees To Seek FAA Grant

Dec 6, 2011 5:59 PM

The East Hampton Town Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to seek Federal Aviation Administration grants to fund the design of a perimeter fence around East Hampton Airport, less than one week after the issue was hashed out at a three-hour-long hearing.

The Town Board’s decision goes against anti-noise activists who have long argued against accepting FAA funds for capital improvements at the airport, saying the grants come with contractual obligations that prevent the town from regulating aircraft traffic and noise. If the FAA provides money for the fence, the obligations, known as “grant assurances,” will be in place until 2031, effectively ending a debate that has raged for years over whether or not the town could be better off by letting the obligations expire.

The Town Board’s Republican majority has consistently supported accepting federal grants, but the issue has been more complicated for Democrats because some party officials and supporters are on the other side of the issue. Councilman Pete Hammerle and Councilwoman Julia Prince, the board’s two Democrats, voted in favor of seeking the grant after Peter J. Kirsch, the Town Board’s special aviation attorney, laid out a lengthy step-by-step plan the town could implement to abate noise while under contract with the FAA.

The plan included the recommendation that the town go through a federal process that would potentially allow it to restrict takeoffs and landings of helicopters, which many regard as the most bothersome airport users.

“I think the plan that was presented today was probably everyone’s best chance of getting more immediate relief from helicopter noise, which in my estimation, is the major, major objection to our airport and how out of control it’s gotten,” Mr. Hammerle said. “I think your plan is going to give us relief from that faster than waiting for grant assurances to run out, and while we were sitting around waiting for grant assurances to run out, we would have a further deteriorating airport condition.”

Pilots and airport users in the audience applauded after votes were cast. Supervisor Bill Wilkinson thanked Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the Town Board’s liaison to the airport, who ran the hearing last Thursday and led the effort to put together the noise abatement plan.

“You have brokered successfully all sides of an aisle—I don’t know how many sides of an aisle there are these days—and you brought a good plan forward with only one thing in mind and that’s the community,” Mr. Wilkinson said.

On Monday, David Gruber, a longtime opponent of federal funding at the airport and a member of the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee, said he and his allies would try to block the town from getting the grants by seeking an injunction in New York State Supreme Court. Last November, Mr. Gruber and five other residents filed a lawsuit against the Town Board, claiming it did not properly conduct an environmental review before approving an Airport Master Plan that September.

Mr. Gruber, who acts as the attorney for the group of anti-noise activists, called the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion, who are plaintiffs in the case, said the town cannot apply for FAA grants while the Airport Master Plan remains tied up in court, or if the plan is eventually ruled illegitimate.

Pilots and airport advocates flooded the hearing last Thursday and urged the board to seek federal grants for the fence. More than 50 people spoke, with supporters of the grants outnumbering opponents by at least a two-to-one margin. About 130 people crowded into Town Hall, with attendees lining the walls of the meeting room and spilling into the lobby.

Although the perimeter fence, meant primarily to keep deer and turkeys off the runway, was the official subject of the hearing, many participants acknowledged that the true question at hand was whether the Town Board should accept new federal grants with new 20-year contractual obligations. Many viewed it as a key round in a debate that has gone on for more than 20 years over how the town should manage burgeoning aircraft noise.

The hearing was also a showdown between two advocacy groups: the Quiet Skies Coalition, which formed in August and has been urging the town to break with the FAA and impose flight curfews and aircraft bans, and the East Hampton Aviation Association, which is against restricting access to the airport and favors other methods of noise abatement.

More than 30 pilots, many of whom were members of the Aviation Association, made various arguments for seeking federal grants to fund construction and repairs at the airport, saying that taxing residents for the improvements made no sense, that the airport is an economic asset and that rejecting FAA grants would not in fact allow the town to impose the local air traffic restrictions, like curfews and bans on certain aircraft, that the other side supports.

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If the FAA is offering the money take it or they will just spend it in another community. Grant money is not like tax money it is there to be spent for improvements and is paid for by those who use the particular service.
By independent observer (34), east hampton on Dec 2, 11 12:47 PM
It's a no-brainer. If someone offered to pay to fix my fence, go at it. FAA Grant money requires noise compatible programs so it's a win-win-win for all. Great reduction in noise disturbance and a safe airport and asset to the east end.
By Pippy (7), Southampton on Dec 2, 11 1:15 PM
1 member liked this comment
Pippy - since you seem to have an inside scoop assuring us that there will be "a great reduction in noise disturbance" if the Town takes "NEW" FAA money for a deer fence, why hasn't this happened before now? Everyone hopes it's true, but I'd sure like to see some written plan first. I am skeptical of such unsubstantiated assurances.
By SagHarborBob (91), Life is Good in Sag Harbor on Dec 2, 11 2:47 PM
"Why hasn't this happened before now?"....Because for 20+ years attempts to put forth an ALP/Master Plan have been met with costly lawsuits and delay tactics and dirty politics by a certain few airport opponents affecting all who would like meaningful and immediate noise mitigation and abatement. Without the ALP/Master Plan and FAA money, noise issues would continue. It's vital to work with the FAA and not perpetuate an adversarial relationship with the very agency the Town needs to work with. ...more
By Pippy (7), Southampton on Dec 8, 11 10:50 AM
Why do we need a new deer fence? That's a bunch of BS even if you're for accepting FAA grants. Can't wait to see who is awarded that contract.
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Dec 2, 11 1:44 PM
The following comment is ONLY about the timing of any vote on the FAA funding, and not about the merits of accepting or rejecting the funding, OK?

If the lame duck Town Board votes on this issue before the recently elected members take office in January, then it should be very clear to all that:

The fix is in.

Such a lame duck vote would be shameful, embarrassing and counter to the ideals of the United States of ...more
By Nero (301), Sag Harbor on Dec 2, 11 2:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
One thing is for sure, the money will stay in the" family".
By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Dec 2, 11 3:52 PM
Y'know Trish - once again - I don't know what your personal beef is against this administration but, really. what "family" are you talking about?? Your "conspiracy theories" seem a little silly to me! 'Splain Trish!
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Dec 2, 11 8:46 PM
Board Watcher,

Please chime in on whether you feel the Town Board should vote on the FAA funding before the newly elected members are in office in 2012.

Thank you.
By Nero (301), Sag Harbor on Dec 2, 11 8:57 PM
Nero - my "chime' is it won't matter if the vote is taken before or after the newly elected members are in office in 2012, because taking the grant money is going to happen - finally! - as a matter of mathematics both for the Town and as far as voting Board members go. But just to humor you I have always been in favor of taking the money AND having local control ... which is finally happening with negotiations (vs. battles) with the FAA. Despite the huge outcry from "interested" parties (look ...more
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Dec 3, 11 3:10 PM
Yes, great weather, thank you for the reply BW.

Perhaps you did not see my lead-in caveat at the top of the recent post: the main concern is over the timing of this vote, and how the lame duck board seems eager to "cram" the vote into 2011 before the new members take office and can participate in the discussion.

All of your points about whether or not take the FAA funding, as well as the broader issues you discuss, would still be on the agenda for discussion in 2012.

You ...more
By Nero (301), Sag Harbor on Dec 4, 11 4:46 PM
I saw your "lead-in" Nero ... "THE FIX"? This is where you are fiddling and I've heard this tune before -- it must be a conspiracy! they're taking the money! (thank goodness it's from the FAA and not the CPF this time around!) the Town Board is being "paid off"! Please. I take huge notice of the fact that neither you or Trish has "chimed in" about what YOUR interests are in this, as this truly is the 'democratic porcess" at work as far as i can tell ...all you have to do is watch what has been ...more
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Dec 5, 11 11:06 AM
OK one more chance for you Board Watcher -- you have not really answered the basic question, but instead have thrown up lots of flack, smoke, red herrings, etc. etc..

Two new members of the town board are going to be in office in about a month. We elected them, perhaps in part because of their different views on this issue. Such is the working of a healthy democracy.

If these new members are not allowed to participate in the current discussion and vote on FAA funding,

BASED ...more
By Nero (301), Sag Harbor on Dec 5, 11 2:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
Please Nero - do your math. Number one - there were more people who DID NOT vote for Overby and VanScoyoc than those who did - so your premise that these two who were elected were put there because of the airport issue is dubious.... and number two - W-H-A-T P-A-R-T OF M-A-J-O-R-I-T-Y V-O-T-E do you not understand? Using your words "BASED ON THE CLEAR WISHES OF THE PUBLIC TO HAVE THEM DO SO" (which is ludicris to say - but OK - we can use your words) Stanzione, Wilkinson and Quigley are going ...more
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Dec 6, 11 1:00 PM
We couldn't spell "ludicrous" either without looking it up. At least we have a dictionary in the doublewide. Anyways, we know this whole FAA thing is an inside job done at "ludicrous Speed" by the Town Board. What's the rush on this funding thing? Seems like the rush is to get the deal done before the community at large realizes what a disaster this will be for the skies over eastern suffolk.
By we could run this town! (129), the oceanfront trailer park on Dec 11, 11 10:25 AM