October 31, 2011
To the Editor:
It’s hard to believe that it was only four years ago that I was campaigning for a seat on the town board. When I took office in January of 2008, I was proud and grateful for the support I received. I was eager to get to work and filled with ideas about how to make our town even better.
Little did I know that within months we would be plunged into a financial scandal the likes of which were hard to imagine. I was determined to get to the bottom of the mess, but it was not easy to obtain and analyze the volumes of fiscal documents. I was joined in my efforts by a handful of elected officials, town employees, and volunteers with the stamina to strive to clear the hurdles erected by former Supervisor McGintee.
Zach Cohen was one such individual. He spent untold hours — at no expense to the town — attempting to unravel the books, focusing in particular on the community preservation fund. It is hard to express the gratitude I have for the time he spent with me, working to help me understand incomprehensible town accounts. His contribution to the resolution of East Hampton’s financial morass was unparalleled, nonpartisan, and amazingly selfless. It is with great sadness that I have observed recent political attempts to diminish Zach’s contribution.
I have been in the trenches. I am well aware of the frequent meetings with auditors from the state comptroller’s office and our independent auditing firms, which Zach participated in. Despite politically motivated statements to the contrary, Zach provided valuable assistance to the state and our auditors. When I think back on my term in office, his presence and help will always take a top spot on my gratitude list.
I began my service on the town board grateful for the support of the voters. Since then, my gratitude has only grown. My time in office has, at times, been a nightmare. But the encouragement, help, compassion, and support I have received from my fellow residents of this great town has been beyond my dreams.
A Single Dollar
October 25, 2011
East Hampton Airport, having previously accepted grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, remains subject to F.A.A. grant assurances that prevent the town from controlling use of our own airport to protect the community from aircraft noise. The F.A.A. policy is unrestricted access for all aircraft types 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
A proposed seasonal tower will not change this. It would be operated by the F.A.A., not by the town. It can impose some control over the route and altitude of approach or departure, but it will have no power to restrict airport access or hours of operation.
If our town government is to perform its normal function of balancing the desire of a handful of airport users for complete freedom and the desire of the rest of us for the quiet enjoyment of our homes, it is essential that East Hampton regain local control over airport access. If East Hampton stops taking F.A.A. money, this will occur on Dec. 31, 2014, by a settlement agreement with the F.A.A.
Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilman Dominick Stanzione do not want this to occur. They propose to apply as soon as possible for more F.A.A. money for trivial improvements, such as deer fencing, that the airport has more than enough money to pay for by itself. And it only takes a single dollar of poisoned F.A.A. money to tie the town’s hands for 20 years. Once a grant is accepted, there is no means to shorten the term of the grant assurances, even by repaying the grant.
With local control a relatively short time away, Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Stanzione are sparing no expense to mislead the public about what the town can and cannot do if it regains its freedom. To that end, they brought an aviation lawyer, Peter Kirsch, to a board meeting to tell the public that, even if the relevant grant assurances expire, there is little or nothing the town can do to restrict airport access.
Let’s cut to the chase; here is what the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the highest federal court in our jurisdiction, has permitted the City of New York, not subject to F.A.A. grant assurances, to do to prevent its municipally owned 34th Street Heliport from blighting the city with noise: impose a curfew, close on weekends, exclude particular aircraft types based on how noisy they are, and restrict the total number of aircraft operations, cutting them in half.
In California, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Santa Monica Municipal Airport to impose a curfew, ban weekend touch-and-gos, ban helicopter training flights (on the ground that helicopter noise is particularly noxious), and impose a specific limit on the level of noise that a single aircraft could produce.
In neighboring Southampton, the town, not subject to grant assurances, imposes a curfew on its municipal heliport.
When he appeared before the board, Mr. Kirsch was asked why East Hampton, once freed of the F.A.A. grant assurances, could not do just what the City of New York, the City of Santa Monica, and Southampton have done. Mr. Kirsch gave six different answers, all of them wrong or misleading.
First, he said that only four of the grant assurances expire on Dec. 31, 2014. Yes, but the ones that expire are all of those that bear on the airport proprietor’s power to restrict access to control noise. That’s how the four were chosen.
Next Mr. Kirsch said that the East Hampton Airport is part of the F.A.A.’s National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems while Southampton is not. Yes, but both East Hampton Airport and the 34th Street Heliport have the same N.P.I.A.S. status, “general aviation” airport, the lowest status of four. Santa Monica’s airport is a designated “reliever” airport, the next highest in importance to the system. The Ninth Circuit still approved extensive restrictions by Santa Monica to protect the community from noise.
Then Mr. Kirsch claimed that the 34th Street Heliport is different from East Hampton because 34th Street has never received F.A.A. money. There is nothing in the law, not a case, not a statute, not a regulation anywhere, that so much as hints that an airport proprietor’s powers to control noise after grant assurances expire is any more limited than the authority of an airport proprietor never subject to grant assurances. Mr. Kirsch made this up.
Next Mr. Kirsch claimed that there is no difference between what an airport proprietor can do whether subject to assurances or not subject to assurances because the authority of the town is as limited by the Constitution as it is by the contract with the F.A.A. But the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has spoken. That court, not Mr. Kirsch, is the final arbiter of federal law in our jurisdiction, including the Constitution, until the United States Supreme Court says otherwise.
Mr. Kirsch then claims that, since the passage of the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, access restrictions are all but impossible to achieve, only one airport, Naples, Fla., has successfully imposed them, and only at great expense. Untrue. The New York City heliport case was decided in 1998, well after the enactment of ANCA. ANCA is in any case irrelevant if East Hampton stops taking F.A.A. money.
From a presentation by Daniel S. Reimer, another member of Mr. Kirsch’s firm, we learn that, if an airport imposes noise restrictions without complying with ANCA, the “Penalty is loss of AIP and PFC.” A.I.P. refers to F.A.A. airport improvement grants. But we are talking about East Hampton deliberately not taking F.A.A. money in order to regain local control. Who cares then if it is ineligible for grants from the F.A.A.? That, Mr. Kirsch, is exactly where we want to go. P.F.C. are per passenger charges. We don’t charge such fees at East Hampton as we have a trivial number of passengers. The bottom line is, no F.A.A., no ANCA.
Finally, Kirsch trots out the bugaboo of litigation expense. He claims, based on Naples, that defending airport access restrictions would be hideously expensive. But Naples, heavily litigated by the F.A.A., was about defending access restrictions under ANCA while remaining eligible for A.I.P. grants. But, see above: no F.A.A., no ANCA.
There is also a huge difference between litigating against the F.A.A. and litigating against private citizens. Let us assume that, if East Hampton imposes a curfew and noise limits, local pilots and the helicopter companies will sue. They don’t have a fraction of the resources to waste in litigation that the federal government does. Even more important to us is that the federal courts will only overrule a federal agency when it considers the agency action to have been, “unreasonable, an abuse of discretion, arbitrary and capricious.” If the agency’s position is even “reasonable,” it will prevail.
In contrast, when the town is sued by private litigants, the shoe is on the other foot. The municipality is accorded deference and its action will only be overruled if the court considers it unreasonable. The difference between litigating against the F.A.A. and litigating against private complainants is vast.
If we stop taking F.A.A. money, we in East Hampton can do what New York City, Santa Monica, and Southampton have already done.
Quality of Life
October 30, 2011
The Hamptons are not immune to hard times; many families are feeling the pinch with budgets stretched to breaking point. But at East Hampton Airport it’s business as usual. Some folks appear to be impervious to hard times and to the suffering of others. Transient commercial aircraft operators flying people to and from the Hamptons in commuter jets, helicopters, and seaplanes are enriching themselves at the expense of local residents’ loss of quality of life.
Air traffic reports provided by East Hampton Airport for January to July 2011 registered 9,494 transient flights (77 percent) and 2,890 local flights (23 percent). If 77 percent of flights in and out of East Hampton Airport are nonlocal, who is pocketing the profits from these flights? Obviously, it’s those non-locally based operators; their profits are not staying in East Hampton, but go where their companies are based — in other counties and states.
It’s difficult to see the benefits to East Hampton, as claimed by Wilkinson and Stanzione, especially when we know exactly what non-local companies do leave in East Hampton — unrelenting noise throughout the season and increasing carcinogenic emissions from jet fuel over our homes, playgrounds, protected wetlands, and nature preserves.
The tranquil Hamptons are fast becoming a distant memory and will further deteriorate if Wilkinson is re-elected as supervisor because he will, as he has frequently stated, accept Federal Aviation Administration money for airport “repairs and improvements.” Urgently required “safety” work (according to Wilkinson) is deer fence installation, yet over the past 10 years, the F.A.A. recorded only five incidents of animal strikes at East Hampton Airport — two were birds (they’re up in the air, Bill, no fences there) and three were deer, two of which caused no significant damage.
How then does 1 incident in 10 years become an urgent need for “safety work” requiring F.A.A. dollars? Deer strikes are far more frequent and dangerous on roads than they are to a few aircraft whose owners likely contribute to certain campaign coffers, could probably buy and sell the entire region, and surely can afford insurance.
If East Hampton Town votes to accept new F.A.A. money, then new F.A.A, “grant assurances” that East Hampton Airport must adhere to will be in effect for 20 years. This is a fact, confirmed Oct. 26 by Sheila Jones, a nationally recognized attorney, despite claims made in ads by East Hampton Aviation Association and other Wilkinson supporters.
If air traffic continues to grow at an annual rate of 9 percent — projected annual average based on 40,878 flights for January 2010 to July 2011 (figures provided by East Hampton Airport manager) — then by 2014, when current F.A.A. assurances expire, traffic will have increased 27 percent. Ten years later, in 2024, the traffic increase will be 90 percent over current rates.
If predicted air traffic growth continues at these rates, how could East Hampton Airport cope with such whopping increases without expanding facilities? It clearly could not. Expansion would have to be considered in order to fully comply with F.A.A. grant assurances that East Hampton Airport remain open 24/7 to receive any aircraft capable of landing on any runway. So, despite what Wilkinson and cohorts say about “no expansion” and only “repairs and safety improvements,” it seems likely there exists a very different agenda behind the smoke and mirrors.
East Hampton voters must carefully consider how important quality of life issues are to them, and take action now to ensure the airport is controlled locally, not by a federal agency based in Washington, D.C. If quality of life issues are important to voters, they must vote only for candidates who will not take F.A.A. money. There is no other option.
October 31, 2011
The Quiet Skies Coalition put on an impressive show at LTV Studios on the night of Oct. 26. It renewed my sympathy for those who live directly under the helicopter flight path. And I agree with their ultimate solution — to impose curfews and limit helicopter traffic — exactly what the Airport Noise Abatement Advisory Committee has recommended. Their anti-Federal Aviation Administration strategy, however, is another matter.
Quiet Skies has adopted an anti-F.A.A. strategy long articulated by David Gruber, a longtime airport opponent and leader of the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion with support from Sheila Jones, who specializes in environmental (not aviation) law. Their strategy is to “take back control of the airport” by never again taking F.A.A. money. They are counting on being liberated when four F.A.A. grant assurances expire on Dec. 31, 2014, and the other 35 in 2021.
Quiet Skies’ strategy requires waiting until Jan. 1, 2015, or later, then spending millions of dollars and many years in litigation with the F.A.A., the helicopter operators and anyone else who joins the fray. In the intervening years, there will be no control tower or other noise-abatement initiatives and no repairs to the airport facility. Can we really wait that long?
Even if and when the litigation is settled, the outcome is highly uncertain and the stakes are high. Should East Hampton lose litigation with the F.A.A., like Santa Monica, it could lose its rights to impose any noise abatement restrictions, including existing ones.
Quiet Skies hangs its hat on the National Helicopter case, wherein New York City successfully imposed a curfew and a limit on the volume of helicopter traffic. But unlike East Hampton, the N.Y.C. dispute was contractual. National Helicopter was a fixed-base operator whose rights were limited by the contract, New York City never received F.A.A. money, and the F.A.A. was not involved in the litigation.
Contrast that with Naples Municipal Airport, which received F.A.A. money before and after successfully banning Stage 2 (noisier) jets. Since helicopters are stage 2 aircraft, arguably East Hampton could follow the same process as Naples without abandoning F.A.A. funding.
Like New York City, Naples spent several years and millions of dollars litigating what a plain reading of the law says they had a right to do. East Hampton should expect to spend more time and money litigating because of its much higher visibility with the F.A.A. thanks to the prior C.S.A.E. lawsuit brought by Mr. Gruber and two others.
As founder of Citizens for a Quieter Airport in 2003 motivated by helicopters flying low and loud over my house, I support responsible methods of reducing noise, including imposing curfews and limiting air traffic.
I question the wisdom, effectiveness, and cost benefit of the Quiet Skies Coalition’s anti-F.A.A. strategy. More could be accomplished sooner with much less taxpayer expense by working cooperatively, as the current administration has, with the F.A.A. and by preparing an F.A.A.-sanctioned Part 161 study using local noise ordinances (single-event noise measurement) as prescribed by the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990.
PETER A. WADSWORTH
October 28, 2011
I thought the last election for the town board in 2009 was of overriding importance after six years of Bill McGintee. This election, I think, is of equal or greater importance for both East Hampton’s economic health and its well-deserved reputation for beauty and peace and quiet.
East Hampton is under assault on two fronts. The first front is the suit filed one and a half years ago by wealthy oceanfront property owners to claim title to the beach on Napeague. The town trustees, bless their souls, immediately jumped into the fray and have mounted a vigorous and well-conceived defense against those property owners. Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and the town board, on the other hand have shown little interest. Even worse, Supervisor Wilkinson attempted to convince the trustees’ attorney to settle the litigation. The settlement would have preserved the beach for the exclusive use of the property owners during the summer months.
Only in the last week has the town board, presumably for political reasons, come to its senses and passed a resolution indicating its support. It still has contributed no money to the trustees for the cost of the defense. That speaks volume about Mr. Wilkinson’s real opinion of the importance of the ocean beach to the rest of us.
The second front concerns the East Hampton Airport. The Wilkinson-dominated town board has adopted an airport plan that calls for significant expansion in the future. The board, of course, denies that there are any plans for such an expansion, which begs the question of why the plan envisions it. Moreover, the Wilkinson-dominated town board has stated repeatedly that it will accept federal money to repair the perimeter fence around the airport.
I will take it at face value that that repair is necessary. What is crucial is how the repair is paid for. The Wilkinson town board wants to accept federal funding for a job that will cost less than $400,000, even though the dedicated airport account has a surplus of between $1.5 million and $1.8 million. In so doing, the town board will cede control of the airport for 20 years to the Federal Aviation Administration. This will take attempts at noise abatement and control of expansion out of local hands and pass them to the F.A.A.
There is no conceivable reason that the town board should accept federal money for the fence other than to ensure that, on behalf of the 1 percent of the East Hampton population that utilizes the airport, there will be no interference by other town residents in airport operation and expansion for 20 years.
The Wilkinson-dominated town board agreed to an alternate flight path over Georgica Pond (to the detriment of Sagaponack, Wainscott, and Georgica). This will have no discernible effect on noise abatement in Northwest. The board has indicated no interest in any noise abatement studies or action; indeed, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley has recently said, presumably on behalf of the town board, that she favors a “scalpel” approach, which translates, in my opinion, to doing nothing.
Do not for a moment think this is inconsequential. Not only are thousands of homeowners affected and the value of their homes drastically reduced, but also the beaches from Sagaponack through Wainscott to Georgica will be rendered unusable by helicopter noise.
I swore to myself two years ago that I would never vote for a Democratic town board candidate again. I intend to break that oath this election. I will vote only for supervisor and town board candidates who have pledged not to accept federal money for the airport and who will fight the Napeague property owners’ lawsuit with vigor: Bill Mott and the Democrats. I do this not based on political party but because they have shown respect for us with their concern about these issues. There are plenty of good Republicans out there. Lisa Rana, the town trustees, and Steve Lynch immediately come to mind.
Very truly yours,
DANIEL G. VOORHEES
October 31, 2011
Thanks for your editorial last week.
I’m a voter like many in East Hampton who votes across party lines. I’m thrilled to live in a place with fair-minded people from both sides and I love to debate the issues with my friends. Political diversity is good for East Hampton — assuming someone’s not throwing sucker punches.
Unfortunately, the Wilkinson people appear to be throwing plenty at the moment. They haven’t been conducting their campaign with any sense of fair play. It’s been slick, negative, and designed to whip up fear. Whoever has been crafting their snide brand of advertising has gone so far over the top that it disgusts me and will affect how I vote.
People say both sides are guilty of this and I have no argument with that. But from what I can tell the Cohen team has not been resorting to this sort of garbage by any stretch and they deserve credit for it.
Not so with the Wilkinson team, which has been running ads calling both Democratic board candidates “thugs.” The ads go on to say that the same Democrats have been running board meetings like dictators, the way meetings were run back in “Soviet Russia.” Both these candidates are honest, hardworking folks with families in this town and kids in school. You don’t have to agree with them, but there’s a way to disagree with their positions without trashing them around in the press like they’re criminals.
It’s sad that this sort of sleazeball electioneering is common these days in state and national elections, but when you run into it in small towns like ours, it’s utterly distasteful.
Furthermore, when you resort to maliciously dragging the names of former board member into the discussion, you are doing something which is unnecessary and unfair. These people have been off the scene for two elections. It’s time to get over it and stop the fear mongering. A few years ago, you may have been fed up with their mistakes and voted them out of office. At this point you owe them (and their families) the right to get on with their lives. At the very least they deserve some privacy. The huge negative billboard-style signs the Republicans put up last week were so far out of line that it made me wonder how far they’re willing to push the envelope.
Enough is enough. This year, the Cohen team gets my vote.
New York City
October 31, 2011
I was extremely distressed to read electoral campaign ads — in appallingly bad taste — in support of Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson. One of the ads referred to opposing candidates as “thugs,” another portrayed opponents as monkeys and, shockingly, both ads were paid for by the East Hampton Town Republican Committee! If these are the public tactics of the East Hampton Town Republican Committee, one can only shudder at the thought of what will go on behind closed doors at Town Hall if Mr. Wilkinson is re-elected as supervisor.
The Republican Party was once a very effective, highly principled, and very dynamic party. Not so today. I am deeply saddened and thoroughly disgusted by the dirty tactics increasingly used by the G.O.P. to defame their opponents. Not visible in the Republican campaign this year are the qualities we have been led to seek in our leaders — those of fair play, decency, and respect for the opinions of others.
In difficult times we need principled leaders at both local and national levels, leaders whose actions become benchmarks for excellence in public service. The hallmark of such leaders is always based on integrity, on truthfulness, on upholding the principles they swear to when taking office. Unfortunately, the East Hampton Town Republican Committee has no such candidate this year.
If a candidate is bereft of basic moral principles and cannot win an election based on merit alone, then such a candidate has nothing to offer the electorate. If Bill Wilkinson, who obviously approved the ads calling his opponents thugs and portraying them as monkeys, is the best candidate the G.O.P. can support for town supervisor, then East Hampton Town has fallen into a very deep moral morass. One can only react with trepidation for the future of the town and the country.
To the Editor:
I would like to thank The Star for pointing out that both candidates made wrong statements. Mr. Cohen in his handout brochure and Mr. Wilkinson on selling town docks. I hope voters will not make their decisions on these statements.
The Republican Committee should not be calling opposing candidates thugs. This not what we expect in East Hampton.
October 28, 2011
Dear Mr. Rattray:
I am so weary of campaigning by character assassination.
The latest disgusting ads maligning Sylvia Overby are no more than that — disgusting. When someone is disrupting a meeting, preventing it from taking its course, all judges, all chairmen, must and do threaten that person with ejection from the room.
Her words, taken completely out of context . . . but enough of that. The real point is that anyone who has taken any time to have a look at Sylvia Overby’s dedication to our environment, anyone who has listened to her at a planning board meeting or town board meeting, who worked with her when the comprehensive plan was being developed, who has asked her questions and heard the depth of her knowledge about our town, knows what we will be missing if we don’t put her on the town board on Nov. 8.
So I’m begging anyone out there who has seen the slime thrown at her in ads and who doesn’t know the history of her dedicated work for the town, to do a little work of your own. Please find a way to learn something about her history of working for us, consistently for the last decade, without any compensation except that of seeing our town keep a tenuous hold on who we are.
Watch and Decide
October 30, 2011
I must say that I was somewhat saddened to read your biased second editorial last week falsely claiming, once again, that the Republicans have hit a “new low” in local politics. If memory serves, I believe you have made the exact same outrageous and uninformed claim every two years since the 1980s. Go back and look in your archives and you will see I’m right.
This year you are in an uproar over the headline to an ad that simply states “The Wilkinson Team 2011 — We are problem solvers — not thugs!”
I find it interesting that you infer from the ad that this headline automatically applies to our Democratic opponents. Does any one have a