Future of the Airport May be No Airport At All by East Hampton Star Editorial Board
Airport Options: Put Residents First by The East Hampton Star Editorial Board
The Airport’s Last Stand by The East Hampton Star Editorial Board
Chickening Out on the Airport by The East Hampton Star Editorial Board
A New Enemy of the Airport in The East Hampton Star by Christopher Walsh
Their Own Worst Enemy by The East Hampton Star Editorial Board
As Town Board Weighs Fate of East Hampton Airport for the 1%, Community Residents Launch Campaign to Shut it Down
September 3, 2021
Following decades of noise pollution and environmental damage, the Coalition to Transform East Hampton Airport (CTA) plans to mobilize a grassroots and paid media effort to educate residents, advocate for permanent revocation of the airport’s license and foster community input on what should become of the nearly 600-acre plot of public land
East Hampton, NY – Today, a group of East Hampton citizens announced the creation of the Coalition to Transform East Hampton Airport (CTA), with the goal of educating local residents and advocating that the East Hampton Town Board revoke East Hampton Airport’s (KHTO) license and transform the approximately 600 available acres into a community greenspace.
Over the past 20 years, The Town Council has tried multiple times to put a stop to the 24/7 flights and regain control, but to no avail as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) controls the East Hampton Airport (known to many as KHTO, its international call number). By accepting FAA grants to maintain and expand the airport, the town of East Hampton relinquished control over the land. As overhead traffic picked up over the past decade, the Town and its citizens have been powerless to stop the noise of low-flying helicopters and private jets with no curfew or mitigate the airport’s disastrous impact on the local environment and watershed.
While some defend the airport’s existence, less than 1% of East Hampton residents and visitors use KHTO. Meanwhile not a single dollar of the airport’s revenue is dedicated to the benefit of East Hampton residents who own the airport, and the estimated spending of those few who do fly through the airport is just 1%-3% of East Hampton’s total taxable sales.
Beyond the intolerable noise pollution inflicted on the local community and greater region, among the group’s chief concerns are the airport’s environmental impact to air quality and contamination of the Magothy Aquifer -- which provides drinking water to the entire East End of Long Island.
Right now, there is a 47-acre federal Superfund Site on the airport property attempting to deal with the toxic levels of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). These are in the groundwater because of firefighting foam used in -aircraft crashes and drills. These hazardous “forever” chemicals are also used in many aspects of aeronautics, including hydraulic fuels, lubricants, engine cleaning fluids, and paints and varnishes.
An independent expert recently concluded that East Hampton is “particularly vulnerable to the effects of pollution from airport related water contamination.” The same study highlighted that even smaller airports have elevated levels of dangerous pollutants. In total, aircraft using KHTO emit approximately 51.5 million pounds of carbon emissions each year, including leaded avgas still used in propeller planes and sold at the airport in thousands of gallons annually.
Community Group Slams Helicopter Operator for Turf Roots Effort to Protect East Hampton Airport
September 8, 2021
East Hampton, NY – Today, to protect East Hampton and all of its surrounding area, the Coalition to Transform East Hampton Airport (CTA) Director, Barry Raebeck, and Chairman, Peter Wolf, have released the following statement in response to Blade’s malicious and dishonest turf-roots campaign.
“Blade’s shallow attempt to engage their customers in a carpet-bagging, turf-roots campaign to protect the East Hampton Airport is nothing more than a hollow attempt at protecting its profits at the expense of the people who actually call East Hampton home.
“Just like the helicopters that fly them here, we fully expect those few who do fall prey to Blade’s copterganda campaign to have nothing but incoherent white noise and hot, polluted air to share with us.
“We launched CTA with our friends and neighbors because we are sick and tired of corporate interests controlling our skies, polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink. Now, for the first time in two decades, the Town of East Hampton has the ability to ground the airport forever.” Once that happens the life of EVERY resident of East Hampton and far beyond, numbering hundreds of thousands of people, will be dramatically improved, permanently.
“East Hampton needs to cut ties with Blade and every other corporation that’s done nothing but act in bad faith since they started flying here. We’re not going to stand idly by while corporate interests steal this once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform a major part of our community and our region to something truly valuable that meaningfully serves so many people for decades to come.”
Background: In 2016, the Town of East Hampton’s attempt to impose curfews and noise controls on the airport was thwarted by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, effectively ruling that the FAA, not East Hampton, controlled the airport. Since then, high-volume traffic from prolific commercial operators such as Blade and NetJets have bombarded the East End, contributing to severe noise and environmental pollution, the inevitable byproduct of the court’s disastrous opinion.
Less than 1% of East Hampton residents and visitors use KHTO. Meanwhile, not a single dollar of the airport’s revenue and the substantial rental income from small businesses on its apron benefits the East Hampton residents who own the airport, and the estimated spending of those few who do fly through the airport contributes to just 1%-3% of East Hampton’s total taxable sales. In fact, if the town eliminated commercial aircraft from helicopter share services, charter flights and more, the Town would lose only $3 to $7 million in passenger spending--a drop in the bucket compared to the airport’s detriment to our quality of life and hazard to our air and water quality. And this is to say nothing of the depressed home property values stemming from the noise pollution, deflating our local tax base.
Future of the Airport May be No Airport At All
by East Hampton Star Editorial Board
July 1, 2020
“Consideration of the future use of the airport” — this is the heart of a public invitation from the East Hampton Town Board for a Tuesday meeting at which the perennially problematic airfield will, we hope, be honestly discussed. Undergirding the discussion is a recent study that has put the airport in a stark new light.
Contrary to assumption, East Hampton Airport is not nearly as economically important as it in the past had been said to be. Among its stunning findings is that passengers using it account for at most 3 percent of the taxable sales in the town. The average spending of those who use the airport is between $500 and $1,300 per trip, the firm found — a higher amount than that of other visitors, but not by much. The estimated number of jobs created by the airport and passenger spending was put at between 100 and 230 — important, but with an employee shortage, not as great a problem as it might appear.
Anticipated but stunning nonetheless is how far the airport has shifted from a field for owner-operator hobbyist pilots over the years. Three-quarters of passengers arrive and depart on commercial aircraft, including jets and helicopters. About half of these passengers surveyed said they would no longer visit East Hampton if they could not get here by air; however, the revenue hit to local businesses would be less than the cost of a mid-price house — between $3 million and $7 million.
If the airport were to be closed, quiet, and replaced with parkland, hiking trails, bicycle paths, and greenways, the consultants said, the economic impact would be offset by an improvement in quality of life, and, for properties near the airport, a likely increase in real estate values. The environment would win, too, with East Hampton at least, responsible for fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Some here say the airport must remain open for emergency medical evacuations. While in a major disaster, such as a hurricane, large aircraft might be called in, the usual way patients are flown out for care is in Suffolk Police helicopters, which land in any number of places as close to where help is needed as possible. Just this week, there was a medevac transfer at Havens Beach in Sag Harbor, for example, and others also recently at Eddie Ecker Park in Montauk and the so-called 555 property on Montauk Highway in Amagansett.
A 2019 study by the East Hampton Town Planning Department adds another wrinkle: that the airport, largely enclosed to keep deer off of its runways, is a rare example of native grassland. Mowed only twice a year, the open spaces surrounding its pavement are host to at least 56 species of indigenous plants, including several extremely rare types. The federally endangered grasshopper sparrow, which requires expansive grassland for foraging, is found there. One plant at the airport called yellow wild indigo, or horsefly weed, is a crucial habitat for the state threatened frosted elfin butterfly, itself an important food source seasonally for other wildlife. Loss of habitat on which the horsefly weed can thrive has contributed to declines in many other species.
As more and more of the remaining wild places on the East End are turned into lawn, places like the airport take on even more significance. But this also argues for a high level of caution if it is to be put to a different use. Its greatest value may well be in leaving it mostly alone after the jets and helicopters are finally sent away.
Aircraft noise has long been far above acceptable levels, and we know now that closing the airport or returning it to its former owner-operator use would not be the economic disaster some warned. Tuesday’s meeting will be an opportunity for the public to weigh in on what should be done. It is a meeting not to be missed if you care about peace and quiet and fighting back for the place you love.
Airport Options: Put Residents First
by East Hampton Star Editorial Board
July 8, 2021
From the differing perspectives of people concerned about East Hampton Airport, there might have been no better time for the resumption of in-person Town Hall meetings. A crowd filled a town board work session on Tuesday at which the main event was a continued discussion about what may lie ahead.
There was a time not that long ago when closing the airport was not something mentioned in public; now it is among the options, once the town is free from federal oversight. In a little over two months from now, promises made to the Federal Aviation Administration long ago in exchange for money will expire. These so-called grant assurances had been the chief obstacle to the town’s asserting full control of the airport and doing anything about the ever-growing noise issue. But what once was unspoken is now in the open.
Arguments for returning the airport to a field for private hobbyist aircraft are fairly clear, but for keeping its operations the way they are, far less persuasive. A town-commissioned study recently concluded that the airport’s financial benefit was limited, and that the cost of closing it entirely to the East Hampton local economy would be negligible — about the cost of a single mid-range house in today’s market.
The position of some that it is needed for emergencies is without merit; held as open space, it would continue to be suitable for medical helicopter landings, as are any number of fields and large parking areas in the region. That is, unless one is talking about the evacuation by jet aircraft of the well-to-do who would rather not crawl in traffic on the Long Island Expressway with the rest of us.
As to the patronizing view that anyone who bought property near the airport had it coming: Shut up, already. Do we really believe that East Hampton Main Street property owners — some of whom come from families that have been on the same land for more than 350 years, or, in the case of indigenous people, thousands of years — bargained for this? And what of Southampton and Noyac residents and visitors, as well as those on the North Fork? Why should they suffer from noise so that some jerk with a platinum card can bounce in and out by helicopter?
It is high time that East Hampton officials began to put residents first. Taking control of East Hampton Airport with the intention of quieting it would be one very big way to do that. East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday that options on what to do with the airport were “difficult questions.” We beg to differ; once the goal of making life actually better for those under its flight paths is made the priority, the rest will follow. If closing it is what it takes, that is the obvious answer.
The Airport’s Last Stand
by The East Hampton Star Editorial Board
July 21, 2021
Consider this: As the arguments against dramatically changing or even closing East Hampton Airport are whittled away, a last resort is emerging, that there are too many wealthy people here for that to happen. What does this say about the East Hampton community — that the interests of a very few can resist those of the many? If so, that is a sad commentary on whose behest our elected officials really serve.
The political math on the airport is lopsided. The voting constituency within East Hampton Town in favor of the airport’s continued use by heavy jets and helicopters could probably be counted on two hands, while those indifferent or outright opposed to it number in the thousands. This means that the individual consequences of making big changes at the airport would not cost town board members their seats. The opposite, however, may be true.
With an obligation to the Federal Aviation Administration to maintain open access at the airport ending in September, radical action will soon be possible. It has long been noted that it would take only three votes on the town board to close the airport and that a third party running on that promise could take control if the Democrats now in power fail to act.
Doing nothing to reduce airport noise has a significant election downside. The town board must know that keeping it the way it is in the interests of just a tiny minority of voters, albeit ones who command an outsize degree of loyalty thanks to their net worth, is not tenable. This, then, is the core challenge for the board: Do they defer to the topmost fraction of the 1 percent or to the rest of us? The moment for that decision is nearly at hand.
Chickening Out on the Airport
by East Hampton Star Editorial Board
August 18, 2021
There will be at least four more meetings at which the future of East Hampton Airport will be discussed and discussed and discussed, the town board announced this week. These workshops, as a consultant described them, will allow residents and others to take part in a “re-envisioning” process about what might follow if the problematic airport were closed or flights severely limited. But while this might seem like good government, it could also be an intentional smokescreen or delaying tactic in the lead-up to the November town board election. Or, worse, the ongoing conversations about the airport could muddle public opinion, leaving a path for the board to avoid having to make the tough decision at all.
The endless chatter also may have the effect of elevating the airport beyond what it deserves; it is, after all, used by very few town residents or visitors and is of negligible importance to the East Hampton economy, as a recent study has shown. The obfuscation does appear to be by design — it is a distraction for the town to frame the question in terms of what else might be done with the land at some point in the future when the matter really centers on what to do about noise and pollution. Officials need to separate the two ideas since they actually have nothing to do with each other, instead serving only to add to the confusion. The cost to taxpayers of the endless procession of consultants and legal advisers must be taken into account as well.
It is not that East Hampton is lacking the means to deal with its airport. The concept of representative government is that elected leaders are expected to lead, and one big way they are supposed to do that is by making the difficult decisions, not hiding behind endless fact finding. The other important mechanism available to the town in our system is a ballot referendum, in which voters get to be heard directly.
Really, though, with the supervisor’s position and two council members’ seats up for grabs in the November election, the most obvious way to proceed is for the candidates to clearly state their positions: Would they vote to close the airport or not? If not, would they vote to curtail some kinds of aircraft and impose curfews? This is one of the bigger issues facing town government at the moment and should be at the center of the town board campaigns. Enough is enough: Tell the public where you stand and let the voters decide.
A New Enemy of the Airport
by East Hampton Star Editorial Board
September 9, 2021
As debate over the future of East Hampton Airport heats up with the looming expiration of Federal Aviation Administration grant assurances, allowing the town to control its future, a group aiming to see the airport closed announced its formation on Friday.
The Coalition to Transform East Hampton Airport has as its goal the transformation of the property's approximately 550 acres into a community green space.
"By accepting F.A.A. grants to maintain and expand the airport, the Town of East Hampton relinquished control" over it, a statement said. "As overhead traffic picked up over the past decade, the town and its citizens have been powerless to stop the noise of low-flying helicopters, private jets, and seaplanes," with no authority to enact restrictions or mitigate the airport's "disastrous impact on the local environment and watershed."
Barry Raebeck, a co-founder of the Quiet Skies Coalition, is the group's director. "For the first time in two decades, the Town of East Hampton has the ability to ground the airport forever," he said in the statement. "We cannot afford to waste this once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform a major part of our community to something truly valuable that meaningfully serves our town for decades to come. And that is what this campaign will be about. Friends and neighbors united together to improve our community."
Among the group's chief concerns, aside from the noise pollution of aircraft, are the airport's impact on air quality and contamination of the Magothy Aquifer, which provides drinking water to the East End. The group cites the 47-acre portion of the airport that was designated a Superfund site two years ago because of contamination by perfluorinated chemicals, used in firefighting foam, which were stored and used at the airport.
The group plans a grassroots and paid media effort to educate residents, advocate for permanent revocation of the airport's license, and foster community comment on what should become of the land.
Their Own Worst Enemy
by Christopher Walsh, The East Hampton Star
September 16, 2021
More than not, participants in an official forum held last week favored closing East Hampton Airport. The view might be seen in the context of who actually was motivated to take part in the online session. But several points suggest that there may be wider support for the most aggressive solution to aircraft noise complaints.
One observation that stood out is that the pro-airport participants in last Thursday’s workshop-style program were either pilots themselves or representatives of the aviation industry. Another was that closing the airport was not just the majority’s position but that it was mentioned at all — there was a time not that long ago when that scale of radical action was almost never mentioned.
A remarkable fact was that the arguments in favor of keeping the airport in operation were generally without substance. The position that the airport was economically important in East Hampton was rejected in a recent town-sponsored study. So too was the assertion that the airport served as an important medical evacuation site. Desperate perhaps, a private pilot cited the airport grasslands’ ecological significance, while apparently not mentioning their being a source of dangerous groundwater and air pollution.
One position of the pro-airport minority actually made more of a case for closing it than anything. Several times, advocates noted that pilots and helicopter companies had worked to change flight paths or follow curfews, implying that they were trying hard to be good neighbors. Well, taking that at face value and considering that these steps have not achieved the desired results, the next move is to get tougher still. You might look at it this way: The fliers say they have done all they could, yet aircraft noise remains unacceptable. Something has got to give.
Caught in the middle are private pilots and aircraft owners. It is not their fault exactly that the airport’s future has reached a crisis point, But on the other hand, plenty of them have been willing to act as shills for the aviation industry, and, in this, helped to bring the current threat down on their own heads.
We are told there remains a middle path: Closing the airport temporarily to reopen it later as a small-scale airfield without jets or helicopters. If this were a real option — and we have our doubts — it is still worth pursuing.
Time to Close East Hampton Airport
OpEd by Barry Raebeck, Newsday
September 13 , 2021
As East Enders know all too well, air traffic coming through East Hampton Airport (KHTO) has been a quality of life and environmental blight on our region for decades. Now, for the first time in 20 years, the Town of East Hampton can ground the airport. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to shut it down — and re-imagine it as a place that serves and protects the entire community.
The 554 acres of town-owned KHTO not in commercial use as storefronts exist for the sole purpose of serving less than 1% of our community and its visitors. Meanwhile, not a single dollar of the airport’s revenue and the substantial rental income from small businesses on its apron benefits East Hampton residents. Instead, these funds benefit only the airport itself.
In fact, if the town eliminated commercial aircraft from KHTO, it would lose only $15 to $20 million in passenger spending, a drop in the bucket compared to our $3 billion summer economy, and virtually nothing when compared to the damage done to our air, water and quality of life.
In total, aircraft using KHTO emit approximately 51.5 million pounds of carbon emissions each year. And, the air traffic contaminates the Magothy Aquifer — which provides drinking water to the entire East End. An independent expert recently concluded that East Hampton is "particularly vulnerable to the effects of pollution from airport related water contamination."
Shockingly, there is a 47-acre water pollution state Superfund site at the airport contaminating our aquifer. Much of the water in Wainscott is now undrinkable.
In 2016, East Hampton’s attempt to impose curfews and noise controls on the airport was thwarted by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which effectively ruled that the Federal Aviation Administration controlled the airport. Since then, high-volume traffic from prolific commercial operators such as Blade and NetJets has contributed to severe noise and environmental pollution, the inevitable byproduct of the court’s disastrous opinion.
Despite what the special interests protecting the airport may say, the truth is their visiting has little-to-no direct economic benefit to our town. More than that, the private interests leading the turf-roots effort to protect the airport include a former private jet travel service CEO and the manager of the airport’s car rental outlet, both of whom have doubled down on spreading false claims that the airport is necessary for emergency rescue services.
Contrary to their absurd assertions, helicopters do not require an airport or even a pad to land and medevac operations have taken place at Haven’s Beach, Noyac’s Long Beach and Montauk Outlook.
But hope is here as we finally have an opportunity to ground KHTO for good and create something new that meaningfully serves the entire community.
As KHTO’s federal grant obligations expire in the coming weeks, control of the airport reverts from the FAA to the East Hampton Town Board, which finally can end decades of injustice. The board’s own commissioned reports have concluded the economic contribution from the airport is modest at best, and there are substantial quality of life and environmental benefits to shutting it down.
We may never again get an opportunity to take ownership of our skies. The East Hampton Town Board members will be heroes when they put people over planes and private profits.
Opinions expressed by Barry Raebeck, an East Hampton Town resident since 1957 and co-founder and director of the Coalition to Transform East Hampton Airport, are his own.
Nine Reasons to Close the Airport, Rather than Modify and Keep it Open
OpEd by Barry Raebeck, The East Hampton Star
September 16, 2021
Thank you for this opportunity to speak on a vital issue for this community and region
Public land of this acreage should be used for the public good. 1% of the people benefit, whereas everyone else is both denied access and subjected to the unremitting assault of aircraft pollution (air, groundwater, visual, and noise).
If the airport remains an airport, it can be returned to its current state, or worse, with a change of the town board, a public referendum subject to the lies and distortions of the airporters’ lobby, Blade, etc. and a 3-2 vote to take FAA money.
The notion of returning to the good old days when it was just a little ol’ country airport with piper cubs flying around is not going to happen. Just deciding what type of aircraft may use the airport is problematic. Regulating types and curfews and restrictions will be a constant problem. Planes turn off their responders routinely now and come in at all hours invisibly. There are rogue operators. Will there be 24 hour-security at the airport to ensure this doesn’t happen?
Another huge problem with “small planes” is that they too are quite invasive of privacy, are plenty loud, often fly dangerously low—and use leaded fuel, avgas, which is spewing lead particulate matter into the air and onto the groundwater. And this is a hundred yards from a pre-school!
Btw, the pilots of smaller planes have NEVER done anything to support the community in calling for restrictions and regulations. They continue to support the status quo, routinely mocking community members who complain about their callous behavior.
And finally, with regard to “smaller planes”, they are responsible for thousands and thousands of operations per year. If they are the only type allowed, we will likely see an increase in their number, perhaps exponentially. We cannot afford to allow luxury recreation to continue to accelerate the climate crisis. Flying an aircraft for pleasure is no longer acceptable, just as burning leaves was finally banned decades ago. And gas-powered blowers were banned this summer. Did anyone miss their awful noise and air pollution?
As long as the land is an airport, the rental monies from commercial businesses on the apron cannot benefit the taxpayers. Nor can the land be used to generate additional revenues for the town.
As long as the land is an airport thousands of local people will have to risk their very lives when walking, running, or riding bikes on our crowded and dangerous roadways, such as 114 and Further Lane and Town Lane.
If we don’t want endless problems indefinitely, we need to close the airport and use the public’s land for the common good. That’s just common sense.
March 22, 2020
The East Hampton Star
Dear Mr. Rattray,
It’s been gratifying to read additional letters from the community in support of closing the airport in East Hampton for environmental and other reasons that impact so many of the area’s residents. Patricia Currie, co-founder of Say No To KHTO, reminded us of the 51.5 million pounds of carbon pollution caused by the air traffic annually and the staggering 290 percent increase in jet traffic in just recent months. Scott Bluedorn and Fred Kolo each emphasized, in some detail, the environmentally and economically beneficial uses the Town’s 570 acres could be put to in the absence of the airport. Bravo. The rest of this letter will be filled with information and opinion, so I recommend taking either an energy drink or a nap before reading, Mr. Rattray.
On Thursday the 18th I signed in to a Zoom panel discussion hosted by Express News Group as part of their Virtual Sessions series, this one called “Turbulence: Can East Hampton Airport be tamed without being closed?” It was far more informative than I’d anticipated, which is a good thing if you’re gonna sit quietly in front of your computer for an hour and a half. The panel was moderated (with “fair balance” for all) by Joseph Shaw, Executive Editor at Press Newspaper Group. The panel consisted of Kent Feurring, President of the East Hampton Aviation Association; Dr. Barry Raebeck, co-founder of Say No To KHTO; Kathryn Slye Allen, VP East Hampton Aviation Association; John Kirrane of Noyac Citizen Advisory Committee and Southampton Town Anti-Aircraft Noise Committee; and East Hampton Town Board member Jeffrey Bragman.
The moderator asked a direct question of Councilman Bragman, which I’ll paraphrase: Would the Town actually consider shutting down the airport?
His answer was appropriately guarded: The Town is looking at all options and closing the airport would definitely be one of them, though that is not the intention at present. So this is a real thing, and presumably a decision will need to be made prior to the expiration of East Hampton’s “contract” with the FAA in September of this year.
Dr. Raebeck spoke at length about the extraordinary carbon pollution caused by the air traffic, in addition, of course, to the noise pollution that has plagued the community for decades and increased exponentially in recent years. Ms. Allen responded that the pilot members of her association had taken the “Pilot Pledge” to help mitigate the noise, by voluntarily entering East Hampton’s air space through alternative routes and only taking off/landing between the hours of 7AM and 9PM. Eyes started rolling, and Dr. Raebeck responded that those hours literally took up all of the day’s light, when residents would be out on their decks or backyards attempting to experience the “quiet enjoyment” they’re entitled to. Mr. Kirrane pointed out that the “Pilot Pledge” had been made and never succeeded for over a decade. He also pointed out that East Hampton’s is a landlocked airport, so there are no routes over the sea nor the bay that don’t impact a residential area below, whether Wainscott, Noyac, Sag Harbor, North Sea, Shelter Island, etc. (It also occurred to me that the population of East Hampton has doubled since 1970, from approximately 11,000 to 22,000 residents. Literally hundreds of households impacted by aircraft noise didn’t even exist back then.)
Regarding the idea of a solar farm on the Town’s acreage, both Ms. Allen and Mr. Feurring suggested that solar panels could easily be installed on both sides of the runway, as has been done with other airports around the country. This, of course, does nothing to address the noise or chemical pollution at issue in the discussion. She also asserted that the fence around the airport grounds actually helped protect endangered species living and breeding inside the property. With that I nearly coughed up my spring water on the MacBook screen (luckily I had a hand towel at the ready). Next, she reported that a study had found the airport contributes over 30 million dollars in employment revenue to East Hampton. I sat with a calculator; that would mean between 1,000 and 1,500 seasonal workers, or maybe 500 full-timers? Who are these people, I wondered? Do they work in restaurants? Are they the drivers, groundskeepers, housekeepers and nannies of the wealthy? They’d be working here anyway, right?
Finally (not really), there was the hypothetical: if there were no airport, imagine the pollution and traffic from all the additional vehicles on the road. And I thought, Hey, who’s getting off the jets and helicopters with backpacks and bicycles and pedaling to their destinations? Nobody. They’re going to the parking lot for their cars, to the terminal to rent one, calling an Uber, meeting their drivers. In other words, the same number of vehicles would be on our roads.
Finally (not really), the discussion turned once again to the Town’s options.
If free of FAA funding could East Hampton impose stricter rules/guidelines on the type of aircraft permitted and the hours of use? Someone answered that the Town, as a government institution, would probably be subject to FAA rules and could not restrict the airport’s use. And if the airport were sold to a private individual or entity? Then the Town would have no control over the use of the airport whatsoever. Hmmm.
Complicating this panel discussion for me personally was the fact that I regard both Dr. Raebeck and Kent Feurring as friends, and I respect their points of view. In Kent’s case, as a resident and aviation enthusiast, he believes a key element of the airport’s importance is that it serves the recreational use of small plane pilots and provides a place where people can learn how to fly. This, for me, was the most compelling reason to maintain an airport. He would like to sit down with all parties and work out some sort of compromise that will satisfy the needs of all involved. So here it is, Kent: The Town will lease the airport to you, or to the Aviation Association, for a modest annual fee of $________, with the stipulation that no jets or helicopters be permitted to fly into the airport; that no commuter traffic be permitted into the airport; that allowable hours of operation will be 8:00AM to 5:00PM; and its use will be limited to residents of the towns of East Hampton and Southampton and their guests. If that isn’t possible, then the East Hampton Airport should be closed.
Look! Up in the sky! Birds!!!
Letter to the Editor in the East Hampton Star
by Tom Ogden
Wainscott March 29, 2021
Your March 17 editorial “Climate Goal Means Much Work Is Ahead” states with regard to the East Hampton Airport that “though the heavy use by jets and helicopters are important sources of emissions, it is likely that the air traffic would shift elsewhere, with no net positive impact at a global scale.” For sure, some fraction of KHTO jets and choppers might divert to other facilities. But Montauk Airport is remote and inconvenient; Gabreski Airport would be OK for long distance travelers, yet, given on-ground travel time, useless for the vast majority coming in from NYC; and Southampton Heliport is small and handles only choppers (and could and should be shut down immediately). Your bottom line seems to be that closing KHTO would likely have no impact “at a global scale.” But no single action of any kind will have such an impact. What eventually will are hundreds and thousands of small and large efforts, including wind farms, solar farms, electric cars, and reduced travel by private jets and choppers, the most energy inefficient form of transportation on the planet.
Letter to the Town Board
by Peter Wolf
September 11, 2021
Dear Town Board,
I am writing to you personally about the airport, a subject you may be exhausted by already. But may I ask you to take a deep breath, turn off your phone, sit in a comfortable chair with good light, exhale, and give me a couple of undisturbed minutes?
In writing this note to you, I fully understand that right at this moment you are probably thinking and feeling and reading with a split self: (i) the political office holder and (ii) the thoughtful, aware twenty-first century concerned member of the East Hampton community, and of our planet.
As have you, I’ve spent years thinking about the East Hampton airport. I’ve also spent many years as a planning consultant to the Town (Senior Advisor to the Comprehensive Plan) and Village of East Hampton (residential zoning ordinance author) consultant to other communities across the country, as a town planning professor, and land use author advocating the best planning policy and opportunities for small towns. Much of this two-decades of thinking and experience is summarized in my relevant award-winning books: Land In America: Its Value, Use and Control; Hot Towns: The Future of the Fastest Growing Communities in America; and, Land Use and Abuse in America: A Call to Action.
Having served as a visioning and re-envisioning consultant to communities hired by town managements, I am deeply aware of what you are trying to achieve currently, prior to making a decision about the future of the airport. The appearance of inclusiveness, transparency, ideas gathering, and all the rest is helpful in a number of ways to politicians on the bench. It offers cover; it comforts; it can diffuse; it can educate. But it is not going to lead to clarity.
And yet the issue is simple. Almost 100-percent of your constituency gains NO BENEFIT from the airport, unlike nearly every other piece of land owned by the Town and unlike any other service provided by the Town. At the same time, an enormous population under your responsibility and thousands beyond the Town boarder, are, one way or another, PRO-ACTIVELY DAMAGED by the airport: intolerable noise ruining people’s lives; unconscionable despoliation of our precious water (the most important resource in all the world); fouling of the air we all breathe with lethal exhaust; and so many others.
Accommodation and continuation of operation into the future as an airport is not tenable. Dialing back by eliminating commercial jitney helicopters, forbidding jets over a certain size, curfews, operations limitations -- all of the ideas we all can think of, and have, do not solve the most ominous potential: a future Town Board, a future airport authority, a future state or county action that would mandate or incrementally author renewal of a full-scale, ever-growing FAA dominated airport at East Hampton. This weed MUST be cut out at the root or it will likely grow back.
Closing the airport will make you civic and environmental heroes, locally, nationally. More than that, and surely more important to you as both politicians and responsible community members, it will allow all the citizens of East Hampton to enjoy enormous benefits from the 600 acres of land they own. The benefits to be obtained are in addition to and far beyond the improvement of peace and quiet, pure water, clean air – as if that were not enough! Imagine what could take place at the site that would be of value to ALL of the people, even those far beyond the Town limits. First recognize that the airport is served by excellent access from multiple directions: Sag Harbor and Noyac to the north; Wainscott and west; East Hampton and east. Here are some ideas.
On that property, where any disturbance is unwanted:
you could forever maintain significant already identified wild natural areas of value as plant and animal habitat, and as aquifer protection.
In a park-like setting you could allow pedestrian and biking trails through these areas for public pleasure and enjoyment and naturalist education.
Where there is now asphalt that leaches its oil base into the precious south fork ground-water and pollutes the Georgica Pond watershed there are splendid options that serve the public interest, simultaneously decongest the Towns hamlet centers, and offer new income opportunities for townwide benefit. So first pull up the asphalt, then:
This is an ideal spot to locate functions such as the LVIS fair, Antiques Show, Green market, Library week gathering, endless charity events and huge private tented parties. An income stream to the Town.
The existing hangers could flourish as art galleries and art studios, one of the mainstays of the historic attraction of the area and one of the Town’s most significant economic incubators. An income stream to the Town
On this land, expanded playing fields could be dedicated/leased to adjacent Ross School, nearby Hayground School, and regional middle and high schools desperately in need. Adult leagues for soccer and all the rest, so in need, would flourish here.
What fun it would be to have a summer drive-in movie theatre there! Plenty of space, no Covid worries, or whatever the next one will be, a place of enjoyment for everyone. An income stream to the Town.
Convert the airport tower to a Cell Tower, so badly needed for modern day communications in the western part of the community. To be an up-to-date place in the gig economy, East Hampton must encourage entrepreneurs, tax ratables, clean business incubation. The Cell Tower rental will be an income producer, and its impact will create revenue in many other ways for East Hampton.
Maintain the discrete, limited amount of paved space needed for medevac emergencies and natural disaster aid. To supplement and to plan sensibly, create an additional stand-by medevac pad behind Town Hall where it belongs, adjacent to the medical facilities already in place.
The 56 acres of industrial space, with 33 lots, less than half occupied, is woefully underutilized and provides NO BENEFIT to the owners of that property, the people of East Hampton, since all of the considerable income is dedicated 100% to the airport. If the residents of East Hampton knew this, they would storm the barriers. With closing the airport, its economic drain on these income producing resources will be eliminated:
Write new leases that mandate rental payment to the Town of East Hampton and have this income-flow dedicated to reducing property taxes for ALL residents. This alone turns the airport property to community wide public economic benefit.
Encourage new uses on the seventeen vacant industrial lots that emphasize new industry that incorporate job training initiatives for trades and services relevant locally and nationally. This area could become an incubator training center for people in various stages of transition and education.
The Montauk question. Why do people in Montauk so vehemently object to closing the East Hampton airport? They don’t like what East Hampton has, either. They object to aircraft operations in/around their community for the same reason people in East Hampton do. Montauk is a private airport with no FAA issue. No problem about forcing regulation there. No problem about residents demanding that airport close. Perhaps no problem about the Town initiating an eminent domain taking to buy the airport, funded by a long term bond. The bonding capacity of the Town can manage it, an environmental and preservation initiative. Once the Montauk airport is shut down, then all sorts of wholesome reuses of that land in Montauk would be available to benefit the Montauk hamlet. You’d get a two-fer!
This sketch of environmentally respectful, productive, forward leaning and economically robust opportunities at the East Hampton airport point to the fallacy of the argument that the airport used as it is today -- as a despoiler-- provides an essential economic lift to East Hampton. On the contrary, the airport stands today as the shockingly selfish domain of very few people who have successfully exploited for profit and convenience the resources of the owners of the land and in doing so robbed the residents of East Hampton, and those in the region, of much better options for this precious property AND they have robbed residents of quality of life with the constant and detrimental and intrusive roar overhead.
Furthermore, as the best environmentally wise transportation answer to the east end is enhanced rail service, once you close the airport there will be increased and well-financed pressure to expand and improve rail service from New York, including to Montauk. Everyone who wants rapid, environmentally respectful travel will obtain it. Just imagine if the economic power and the political savvy of people hopping jets and helicopters routinely were to align and demand better rail.
I implore you in the coming weeks -- as you step up to a decision about the future of the East Hampton airport -- to think as enlightened leaders who have the courage to sort through the dense smoke being sent-up so professionally by a well-organized, deep pocket, tiny, tiny, tiny minority that includes a consortium of highly profitable companies determined to exploit for their profit land that belongs to ALL the citizens of East Hampton. Your Town Board enjoys a golden moment to assure an environmentally upgraded community for today and for all the generations to come. Do not be swayed by all the noise in the tunnel – look beyond it to the light.
Peter M. Wolf
Chairman, Coalition to Transform East Hampton Airport
Lisa Liquori, Fine Arts and Sciences
Peter Flinker, Dodson & Flinker
Carole Brennan, Town Clerk, East Hampton