Amid a great deal of froth about the East Hampton Airport, one thing is clear: The vast majority of town residents want things changed. One in five participants in a recent series of workshops wanted it closed; another three of five would like to see major changes. Only a tiny sliver of people attending the workshops said that its current situation was acceptable, most of these connected to the aviation industry in one way or another, but not all. Seeking re-election, East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc has bucked the trend, instead proposing landing and takeoff curfews, something that was tried before and failed to cut down on noise.
Montauk is squarely on Mr. Van Scoyoc’s mind. He has said that he would agree to nothing that might increase flights at its private airstrip on East Lake Drive. Others have pointed out that the Montauk runway is too short for the jet traffic that now floods the East Hampton Airport and that its location would make it less appealing to passengers ultimately headed to destinations in Southampton Town. Important, too is that Montauk’s approach route, unlike East Hampton’s, is over water, and that helicopters that could end up there could come in from Block Island Sound. Nonetheless, the Montauk fear factor is present among Democratic Committee members, who worry that Mr. Van Scoyoc could lose his job.
Cate Rogers, until recently the Democratic Committee chairwoman, who is seeking a town board seat, is worried, too. She has said that the town should buy the Montauk Airport before making changes at East Hampton. Conversations have taken place with the Montauk airfield owners, and we would not be surprised if some sort of deal is struck on the eve of the election, not unlike the way Mr. Van Scoyoc announced an agreement to preserve 32 farmland acres in Amagansett first thing in the morning the day of the Democratic primary in which he was a candidate. (Since the June 22 announcement was not time-sensitive and could easily have waited a day, this could be construed as an abuse of office.)
Town Councilman Jeff Bragman, who is running for supervisor as well, has put forward the most aggressive plan: for an “air traffic holiday” of at least a year during which all jet, helicopter, and seaplane flights would be prohibited. Private-owner propeller aircraft would continue to be welcomed. This temporary moratorium would buy the town time to realistically evaluate impacts, Mr. Bragman argues, when development pressure outpaces regulators’ ability to regulate and new building permits are paused.
John Whelan, running for a town board seat, has said that he wants a temporary closure, new legislation, and a reopened airport that no longer allows helicopters, jets, or commercial flights — but that a decision should wait until the new town board is sworn in in January. Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, a two-term incumbent seeking re-election, is aligned more with the supervisor than the challengers.
It is clear that the Montauk issue is overstated. In fact, it is being used by some with other fish to fry, such as the hamlet’s incorporation as a village, to stir discontent. Candidates for office need to consider what is good for the town as a whole and not how making what is the right decision might harm or help their personal political chances.