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.