Helicopter companies and others who sued East Hampton Town over its attempt to gain more control of its airport won a temporary victory in state court last week, but the celebration was premature. In his court order, Justice Paul Baisley said that the town should have completed an extensive environmental review before taking steps to reclassify the airport as “private.” Town officials had said they would do the study once new, noise-control rules were in place, in order to gauge their actual, as opposed to speculative, results. The town board is meeting with its attorneys to consider an appeal.
The town’s position, to assess the airport restrictions after they were implemented, made sense, especially since decisions about whether to reroute air traffic, such as helicopters and seaplanes, would be up to the companies themselves, which have tended to be disingenuous in past discussions. By forcing the town to either appeal or conduct a lengthy study, the airport user groups perhaps hope to run out the clock until a more compliant town board majority may be in place. This is a risky gamble; the longer the fight over aircraft noise goes on, the louder the calls to shut the airport entirely will be.
The town board members who close the airport for good would be heroes, not just in East Hampton, but across eastern Long Island. That could prove motivation enough for a majority to take the ultimate step. Through their litigious intransigence and consistent refusal to negotiate in good faith, the airport interests may have become their own worst enemy.