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Mar 31, 2015 10:50 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Committee to Stop Airport Expansion Seeks Intervention In Friends Lawsuit Against FAA

Mar 31, 2015 4:16 PM

The Committee To Stop Airport Expansion is expected to ask for permission to participate in a recent lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration, which would allow the Committee’s representatives to testify, and to defend an earlier settlement with the FAA that is part of the new case.

The new lawsuit was filed by the Friends of the East Hampton Airport. That group and the Committee To Stop Airport Expansion are on opposite sides of the debate over the airport, its scope and its intended use. The Friends group is mostly aviation organizations and other airport supporters, and it claims that those who complain about an increase in traffic and aircraft noise—including the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion—are trying to shut down the airport entirely.

At issue is East Hampton Town’s decision to get out from under FAA restrictions, which were enforced through four grant assurances related to past funding related to the town-owned airport.

In 2005, the FAA waived grant assurances that were set to expire in 2021, settling a lawsuit filed by the Committee To Stop Airport Expansion, which focused on noise impacts resulting from operations at the airport. The FAA agreed to allow the grant assurances to expire in December 2014. This cleared the way for the Town Board to move forward with curfews on takeoffs and landings at the airport, and limiting access by certain types of aircraft considered the worst noise generators, like helicopters.

The Friends lawsuit, which was filed on January 29, challenges the FAA’s ability to waive those grant assurances. It argues that in a similar matter, focusing on the Santa Monica Airport in California, a court ruled that the FAA “may not by agreement waive its statutory enforcement jurisdiction over future cases.”

In essence, the Friends maintain that the FAA must continue to enforce its own rules at the East Hampton Airport, because a contract for federal grants should still be in effect. The suit does not name the Committee To Stop Airport Expansion, although it was a plaintiff in the earlier lawsuit.

With the new filing, the Committee hopes to be heard in the new court case. According to a letter to Federal Court Judge Denis Hurley from attorney Sheila Jones of Washington, D.C., who represents the Committee To Stop Airport Expansion in the intervention, the Committee believes the Friends of the East Hampton Airport’s claims against the FAA are “without merit.”

When contacted on Monday, Ms. Jones declined to comment, but David Gruber, a member of the Committee, said that the Friends don’t have a legal claim. “You can’t force the federal government to enforce laws it decided it doesn’t want to enforce,” he said. “I don’t think this has any merit at all.”

Its earlier lawsuit against the FAA, with Ms. Jones representing the Committee, alleged that the FAA failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act when it awarded grant money for projects at the airport, and that the FAA violated the Airport and Airways Improvement Act when it approved the town’s airport layout plan in 2001 as part of a grant application.

The Friends of East Hampton Airport have been warning the Town Board to tread carefully if they put new restrictions in place, saying that such restrictions would heavily affect their clients’ businesses, and in January they filed suit to make sure their interests were protected.

The Committee To Stop Airport Expansion is back before the court again to represent itself and argue that the 2005 ruling “was settled,” despite not being named in the Friends of the East Hampton Airport lawsuit.

“The plan is to make sure that the case is well defended and to explain from the Committee’s point of view why the settlement occurred,” Mr. Gruber said. “There may be certain aspects that the FAA doesn’t want to talk about that the Committee certainly does.”

Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesman for the Friends of the East Hampton Airport, said he could not comment on pending litigation.

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