East Hampton Town's
long and costly battle
for local control
Past and recent events demonstrate
that while KHTO remains open,
aviation proponents will demand
expansion of capacity and services.
After several FAA grant assurances pertaining to an airport proprietor's rights expired in 2014, and based on an earlier agreement with the FAA, the Town believed it would have the right to set restrictions and curfews at its own airport.
East Hampton Town Board appointed residents to several committees to identify ways to lessen noise pollution caused by aircraft operations, and to also ascertain whether the airport could remain financially sustainable, without need for additional FAA subsidies.
A great deal of work was undertaken and presented to the public before curfews and restrictions briefly went into effect in 2015:
· mandatory nighttime curfew:
11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.
· extended curfew on noisy aircraft:
8:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m.
· limit on noisy aircraft:
only one round-trip per week
Shortly after the local laws were introduced, a group representing out-of-state and local aviation interests, filed a petition against EH Town in federal court, seeking to delay implementation of the local "control" which would have lessened the most troublesome noise burden on residents.
In June 2015, a judge issued a preliminary injunction against the one-trip-per-week restriction on noisy aircraft, the one restriction which would have provided the most relief to residents from noise pollution.
In November, 2016, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals smacked down all restrictions, denying the Town any local control of its airport, ending the Town's restrictions and curfews.
In 2017, the Town made yet another attempt for local control, and filed a petition for a hearing of their case by the U.S. Supreme Court. SCOTUS declined to hear the Town's case for exemptions.
In 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration granted the Town the right to use funds generated at the airport to defend its interests.
The FAA stated that the town’s use of airport revenue to litigate operational issues at the Wainscott airport — including addressing noise complaints — did not violate grant assurance agreements with the FAA.
Airport revenue may be used for operating costs of an airport, which includes fees “related to airport-related legal issues,” the ruling stated.
A NJ-based group calling itself Friends of the East Hampton Airport, and local residents with aviation interests, have filed a total of seven lawsuits against the Town of East Hampton, seeking to protect only their interests at the expense of lost quality of life and ongoing health and safety threats to residents.
The community spirit so loudly espoused by airport proponents is nowhere to be found in past actions or evidenced by their statements today.
In 2015, the aviation industry poured close to $400,000 into the coffers of several candidates running for election to East Hampton Town Board; those candidates had supported aviation interests.
It was the largest amount of money raised for an election in the Town of East Hampton.
They lost. The residents of East Hampton soundly rejected the industry’s blatant attempt to buy control of their Town Board and thereby the airport.
In September 2021, the Town could legally close the airport, and local aviation interests have again called in out-of-state lobbyists to defend their interests, including the deep-pocketed Washington-based lobbyists of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the Airline Owners and Pilots Assoc (AOPA). Reps from these groups now attend EH Town Airport Management Advisory Committee and citizen's committee meetings. Recently, their out-of-state economic/advertising consultant has joined such meetings. Another takeover bid for the Town Board is likely in progress as the November election nears.
East Hampton Airport operates like an exclusive country club and profit center, but only for those with aviation interests. All income from the property, even from the many non-aviation related businesses on Industrial Rd, must be used exclusively for aviation purposes. The Town and its residents gain not one cent of income from the almost 600-acre property.
Among those opposed to restrictions on aviation operations at KHTO was a small group of local pilots which continued to advocate for the Town to accept more FAA funds, thereby ensuring the Town would be obligated to keep the airport open 24/7/365, without restrictions of any kind, and well beyond 2021.
They failed. If any future Town Administration wishes to accept additional FAA funds, a referendum is required.