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Jun 26, 2017 11:55 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Supreme Court Declines To Hear East Hampton Airport Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court denied East Hampton Town's request to appeal an earlier court ruling that blocked curfews at East Hampton Airport. MICHAEL WRIGHT
Jun 27, 2017 4:00 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court this week declined to hear arguments from attorneys for East Hampton Town about the town’s claim of authority to impose restrictions on flights into and out of East Hampton Airport.

The high court’s announcement on Monday, in a perfunctory one-sentence order, means the town’s legal defense of the curfews it imposed in 2015 is exhausted, and town officials are left with only the years-long process of applying to the Federal Aviation Administration as an avenue to relieving noise disturbance by helicopters and airplanes using the airport.

“Our approach to the airport issue has always been about trying to get local control of the airport, and so we’re disappointed with this latest decision,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said on Monday. “We will continue to promote local control and oppose the federal government’s stranglehold on our airport.”

In 2015, the town adopted three local laws limiting traffic at East Hampton Airport. Two were curfews, one on all aircraft and another, more restrictive one on especially noisy aircraft. The third was to limit each plane or helicopter to one takeoff and one landing at the airport per week.

A group of aviation organizations, mostly operators of charter helicopter companies that run hundreds of weekly shuttle flights between Manhattan and East Hampton, sued in federal court, claiming that the town had overstepped its authority. A judge immediately blocked the limit on the number of flights an aircraft could make but allowed the two curfews to take effect.

Over two summers, 2015 and 2016, consultants for the town said the curfews had the intended effect, essentially eliminating flights into the airport early in the morning and late at night, when they are most disruptive to residents, and reducing the number of very noisy helicopters that used the airport.

Last fall, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, ruled that the town did not, in fact, have the authority to impose either the curfews or the limit on aircraft without permission from the FAA.

The town had asked the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of the federal grip on regulating airports, which is intended to prevent myriad local regulations from inhibiting aviation travel nationwide. The lower courts had said that if the town feels restrictions at East Hampton Airport are warranted, it must go to the FAA for permission to impose them, a process known as a Part 161 application.

The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the Friends of East Hampton Airport, have offered no statements or communications regarding any of the recent court proceedings. Contact numbers on the group’s website are for a public relations firm that has not represented the group for more than a year.

The appeal to the Supreme Court, town officials have admitted, was always seen as something of a long shot, and last month the Town Board voted to hire a new law firm to begin preparing the Part 161 application.

Mr. Cantwell said on Monday that with the Supreme Court declining to hear the town’s appeal, that effort will now begin in full.

“We’re ahead of the game in that we’ve chosen a firm to start preparing [an FAA] application,” he said. “We have held back on their work so far, pending this decision, but now we’ll be full-steam ahead.”

The so-called Part 161 process is an avenue within FAA bylaws through which municipalities may request the right to impose new controls on flights at airports specifically to address noise impacts on residents in the surrounding communities.

“The federal government, and in particular the FAA, is incapable of managing the airport in the best interests of our community,” said Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, who has spearheaded the town’s management of the airport since 2014. “We need local control in order to bring the much needed relief from aircraft noise.”

The application will require the town to decide what restrictions it wishes to place on the airport and then present the FAA with data and evidence proving that there are negative impacts from airport-related noise on the surrounding community and that the proposed restrictions will address those impacts without undue imposition on aviation.

The decision to hire Morris Foerster, a gargantuan international law firm, drew howls from some aviation supporters because the firm was touted, in the legislation approving the firm’s hiring, for having won the city of Santa Monica, California, the right to close down its municipally-owned airport entirely as a means of addressing noise impacts. Following the blocking of the curfews by the Court of Appeals, a group of residents from the neighborhoods surrounding the airport began calling for the complete closure of the facility. Town Board members have said they do not think closing the airport is the proper course of action, but said that a future Town Board may see things differently.

As part of its effort to shed the strings of federal control, the current Town Board has refused to apply for or accept any federal grants for upkeep at the airport, because such grants come with 10- to 20-year assurances of adherence to a variety of FAA guidelines. Instead the board has raised or instituted new fees for services and expanded leasing of valuable light-industrial land around the fringes of the airport. Along with funding the legal battle over the curfews, to the tune of some $2 million so far, the board has used the increased revenues to push forward a number of capital improvements at the airport—including the $1 million ongoing replacement of the airport’s aircraft fueling equipment and planning and analysis for extending the main taxiway—in an effort to show that the facility can be self-sustaining without federal funding.

The State Legislature this week approved a bill requested by the town that would allow town residents to force a townwide referendum vote should any future Town Board choose to seek FAA grants for airport maintenance.

A permissive referendum requires that 5 percent of town residents who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election sign a petition within 30 days calling for a townwide referendum on the measure.

“Town Board members, who negotiate financing for the town airport, have terms that last only two years,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. noted. “Therefore, it’s important that voters also have a say on these abiding agreements that will impact them for years to come.”

The bill must still be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo for it to take effect.

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I guess the only option now is to close down the airport for good. The land has good commercial value and the tax revenues will enhance town finances. Bravo SCOTUS.
By Toma Noku (616), Southampton on Jun 26, 17 12:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
Make it a Costco. Quality products at affordable prices.
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on Jun 26, 17 12:54 PM
How much is this going to cost taxpayers?
By fishy (92), East Hampton on Jun 26, 17 2:15 PM
The Part 161 study normally costs taxpayers absolutely nothing because it is entirely paid for out of the airport's own direct revenues. However, the Town gutted the airport's funds for this type of thing by illegally diverting the money to pay for their attorneys in the lawsuit (which they lost every single round after listening to the terrible advice of the anti-airport people). If the airport is allowed to continue to operate safely under a set of voluntary noise abatement restrictions proposed ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Jun 26, 17 3:03 PM
$40 million lost? From that stupid little airport? 7.3% increase in unemployment??? Does that include laid-off deer? LOL. What a clown car of lies you've got there. I got a bridge to sell you. It's in Sagaponack. I bought it from Anna Thorn Holst for $1. I'll sell it to you for $2.

By em (51), sagaponack on Jun 26, 17 3:26 PM
Not my numbers - they are from a bunch of well respected experts and researchers at NYU whose job it is to study economic impacts of transportation facilities. But I guess you think you're so much smarter about these things than they are. Must be nice to live in a bubble in Sagaponack.
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Jun 26, 17 3:40 PM
In the event of a medical emergency the medivac choppers can land in any open field so the potential for closing the airport would not effect medical service.

However, I am opposed to closing the airport as once it is closed there will never be another airport out here so closing it is very short sighted.
By Rich Morey (378), East Hampton on Jul 5, 17 1:10 PM
I support the EH airport. Its is vital to our economy. Many wealthy people use it as a means of travel and those people employ locals, stimulate the economy and pay taxes. With that said the airport is shooting themselves in the foot. I understand the outrage. Question is can EH town close the airport? If so that may be a last resort strong arm tactic to get them to comply.
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Jun 26, 17 3:01 PM
2 members liked this comment
How is that airport "vital" to anything but the bottom line of a few helicopter companies? You think those people who pay $800 each way to fly out here every weekend would suddenly decide to sell their gazillion dollar mansions here and spend the summer in the Rockaways instead? Muffy and Carlton Whitford on the Jersey Shore? Shut down the Maidstone Club everyone has moved to Seaside.
By em (51), sagaponack on Jun 26, 17 3:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
There are almost 25,000 flight operations every year and only 8,000 of them are helicopters. The airport does a LOT of things for this community that doesn't involve helicopters or rich people. Trying to tie it to just rich people is a misinformation tactic being used by the anti-airport faction. An NYU study in 2013 determined it brings in over $40M dollars to this community and is responsible for 7.3% of local employment. Here's just one example of how vital it is: If anything were to happen to ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Jun 26, 17 3:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
It can and will be closed. The outrage is from residents from NYC to Orient. Why should they receive the noise and pollution---no economic benefit from either (not that EH gets any economic benefit--it all goes to out of state commuter operators a few greedy locals....very few jobs, and most seasonal jobs. EH residents are for the most part not allowed to access the property and the town receives no income from it---all money goes back to aviation---a crowd of investors fro out of state. Its ...more
By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Jun 26, 17 4:07 PM
It can and will be closed. The outrage is from residents from NYC to Orient. Why should they receive the noise and pollution---no economic benefit from either (not that EH gets any economic benefit--it all goes to out of state commuter operators a few greedy locals....very few jobs, and most seasonal jobs. EH residents are for the most part not allowed to access the property and the town receives no income from it---all money goes back to aviation---a crowd of investors fro out of state. Its ...more
By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Jun 26, 17 4:07 PM
By joe hampton (3461), The Hamptons on Jun 26, 17 7:54 PM
Good grief Trish, your hysterical exaggerations are becoming ridiculous. Outrage from NYC to Orient? Out of the over 7,800,000 people you just referenced only 302 of them filed any kind of noise complaint last year - that's 0.000038%. Some outrage. Those same people are more likely to be killed by an asteroid than to file a noise complaint about HTO. No economic benefit? Besides the NYU study showing the airport generates over $40M, the town's own recent study said 70% of its revenues came from ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Jun 26, 17 11:56 PM
Local EH I agree with you in regards to revenue and its safety record but you must admit that they don't make things easy on themselves. Granted you will always have a few who hate them either way but If they wish to endear themselves to the general public they should find a way to work with the town.
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Jun 27, 17 12:10 PM
the airport is a asset to everyone on south fork and should stay. now that the town has spend millions on litigation and ignored numerous projects that involve safety. For everyone maybe this is the time to reach out for a compromise. take the Faa money and make a cleaner, safer, less noise airport
By Obserever (40), Southnampton on Jun 26, 17 5:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
the airport is a asset to everyone on south fork and should stay.
Then ask all commercial pilots and their owners to fly the South Shore Route
That way the complaints will stop coming in from 22 miles and farther along the North Shore for your EH Airport
By shredman (11), Northville on Jun 30, 17 4:50 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Obserever (40), Southnampton on Jun 26, 17 5:35 PM
The entire east end is over crowded, over priced, and over rated. It's best days are long gone. The summer invaders have ruined a once beautiful and peaceful place Whats a little airport noise added to all the other abominations done to the area?
By country joe (60), sag harbor on Jun 26, 17 8:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
Whats a little noise? I guess you dont live in and around the flight path or you would be singing a different tune. The noise has cost complaining.Home owners millions in trying to sell their homes in a and around the once quieter airport. The aviation community has had the opportunity to police themselves but alass, arrogance prevails. Its not the number of flights but rather how they fly. If the aviation community would only self impose new flight patterns and rules no one would complain. Why ...more
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Jun 27, 17 6:06 AM
1 member liked this comment
The NYU study is a half step more respectable than Philip Morris tobacco research circa 1955.

It's very simple - no one wants to be anywhere near helicopter noise PERIOD. The industry overwhelmingly uses the loudest models - namely the twin engine flying subwoofers. Use quieter equimpment for starters.

Quit flying over homes. The North Fork receives zero economic benefit from the air taxis yet gets the majority of the overhead flights. How does the homeowner in Queens, ...more
By eastend11957 (8), Jersey City on Jun 27, 17 2:30 PM
1 member liked this comment
Stop building near airports! I wrote months ago that the Supreme Court would never take up this case. This is a rich person problem and the lawyer representing should know they never take ridiculous cases like this. Bad legal advice.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 27, 17 5:26 PM
The north fork is getting hammered by seaplane and aircraft noise due to pilots opting to follow each other in the same exact flightpaths over many homes versus diversifying their flightpaths. A smart way to get residents upset and they have done so successfully! Now residents on both forks are fighting back!! Stupid real estate agents promoting polluting helicopters trips to see real estate doesn't help the situation. Let's see, let's get people to fly out by chopper, sell them a waterfront home ...more
By NativeEEnder (5), Hampton Bays on Jun 30, 17 1:07 PM
File noise as you are affected. All info is located on the easthampton, Southampton, Riverhead and Southold Town websites. Get involved and file your complaints starting today! The apolocolypse has started!
By NativeEEnder (5), Hampton Bays on Jun 30, 17 1:14 PM
Not one of these helicopters or seaplanes lands on the North Fork, the gateway for 85% of commercial traffic to EH airport. This route will take you over 80% more homes then over the ocean route yet no pilots seem to do anything about it. Jeff Smith chairman of Eastern region helicopter council said he could control a 50-50 North Shore route -South Shore route. That would be a start but just don`t see it happening. As far as the 40 million mentioned earlier I`d love to see a break-down on how that ...more
By shredman (11), Northville on Jun 30, 17 1:47 PM
Solution: Purchase Gardiner's Island with CPF Money and convert it into an Airport then Make the current airport into a Nascar Track...

Do I have to think of everything for you people.
By joe hampton (3461), The Hamptons on Jul 4, 17 1:51 PM