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.