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East Hampton Airport remains on track for temporarily closing, despite FAA warning

The East Hampton Airport is still set to reopen on March 4, despite a warning from the Federal Aviation Administration that the process could take up to two years.

In a letter sent Feb. 2 to East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, the agency wrote the town should “be aware that it may take approximately two years to restore the current capability to the airport if it is deactivated depending on any potential environmental analyses.”

The East Hampton Town Board voted unanimously in late January to close the controversial airport on Feb. 28 and reopen it for private use on March 4. The town has been engaged in a lengthy public engagement process about next steps for the site, which was no longer required to comply with FAA grant requirements this past September.

The FAA outlined the process to transition the airport from public to private in the three-page letter. 

“The deactivation of the airport has genuine consequences. Once an airport is deactivated, it cannot be reopened with the same facilities and procedures simply by reactivating it,” the letter says. 

At a Feb. 3 Town Board meeting, Mr. Van Scoyoc emphasized that East Hampton has complied with the FAA throughout a lengthy process to decide on next steps for the airport, which is unpopular with many residents from East Hampton and neighboring townships. 

The town “remains committed” to the plan to deactivate the airport on Feb. 28 and open a private-use airport on March 4, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, despite “some rumors” in the community. The town continues to meet with the FAA “on a regular basis to this day,” and remains ready to provide further details if needed, he said.

“The town has been clear publicly, as well as with the FAA, that it must address community concerns regarding negative impacts the East Hampton Airport has on the town. The town will not continue a public use airport as it is not consistent with the community’s needs,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. 

He said the FAA has not worked with the town to “establish reasonable limits,” despite outreach for decades, most recently since 2015. The town has made it clear in discussions with the FAA that the new private airport needs to match the community.

“Excessive overflight traffic, constant noise and safety issues are not tolerable in East Hampton. That said, with appropriate controls, the town believes the new airport will continue to provide benefits to the town,” he said. 

The FAA letter was circulated in the press and among “certain airport users” before it was received by the town, according to Mr. Van Scoyoc. He was “dismayed” and “floored” that the letter suggested the airport might not be operating safely. 

“We have relied on FAA oversight at East Hampton Airport as we were required to do for decades. There’s never been a suggestion from the FAA that East Hampton Airport was unsafe, that the airspace is unsafe, that the procedures are unsafe or that the town’s privately contracted air control tower is unsafe. Just the opposite is true,” he said. 

If the airport was operating unsafely, it would be “closed immediately” to ensure the safety of the community, he added. Any FAA delay would be “self-inflicted” and “unnecessary.”

A spokesperson for Eastern Region Helicopter Council said the FAA letter highlights the “reality” of closing the airport and “some of the damaging unintended consequences.” 

“Rather than following the flawed advice of paid consultants and going against the wishes of roughly 80% of the town and their preference to keep the airport open, we again urge the Town Board to work with the aviation community to keep the airport open and find alternative solutions,” ERHC spokesperson Loren Riegelhaupt said. “Our door remains open and, as always, we are willing and eager to work with the town to finally resolve these issues and avoid the added burden to our roads, infrastructure and taxpayer funds.”

Barry Raebeck, the leader of a community group advocating to shut down the airport — largely citing noise, pollution and quality of life issues — applauded the town for respecting the community’s concerns, even though the advocacy group still wants the airport shut down. 

Although, if the airport did close for two years, that would be a “dream come true,” he said. People would “quickly realize” the shutdown was a “good thing,” and the airport would only be missed by airport users and those who profit from its operation.

They would be inconvenienced at first, but they’d figure it out, he said.

Residents, students and civic groups from across the two forks — including Southold and Riverhead — recently signed a letter arguing to close the airport because of the threat it poses to the environment. 

The airport is a “designated Superfund site and place of extraordinary air and groundwater pollution,” the letter says, adding that groundwater contamination of the aquifer resulted in “poisoning” of hundreds of residential wells.”

If East Hampton Airport were to shut down, Mattituck Airport could see thousands of additional flights per year, according to a study available on the Town of East Hampton website. Paul Pawlowski, one of the airport’s owners, has previously told Times Review that wouldn’t be a “logical” choice for diverted flights from East Hampton. 

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell criticized the report after its release in September for turning “a blind eye to zoning,” causing the analysis to fall “well short of the facts and reality.” He also pointed out the impracticalities of using the Mattituck airfield for flights diverted from East Hampton.