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Weighing Airport Restrictions’ Impact on Montauk

Wed, 02/21/2024 - 16:48
A draft generic environmental impact statement regarding East Hampton Town Airport studied the potential impact on nearby airports, including Montauk’s privately owned airport.
H.M.M.H. Environmental and Transportation Planning Consultants

The privately owned Montauk Airport could see a nearly 100-percent increase in summertime flight operations if air traffic were restricted at East Hampton Town Airport, the town board was told last Thursday during a presentation of a draft generic environmental impact statement regarding the proposed restrictions.

But that conclusion was based on an assumption of 5,000 annual operations, or takeoffs and landings, there in 2022, which a consultant told the board might be as high as 30,000. In the latter scenario, the percentage increase at Montauk would be much lower.

The town board later voted to accept the impact statement regarding proposed restrictions at East Hampton and set March 13 for a public hearing on the document. Acceptance of the statement starts a period for public review and public and written comment.

The vote to accept it came during last Thursday evening’s meeting, which followed the presentation from consultants earlier in the day, an unusual schedule of two town board meetings on the same day, the board’s Feb. 13 meeting having been postponed because of a snowstorm that morning. It is the latest in a yearslong effort to implement restrictions on flight activity at the airport here that many residents have demanded, as flights, particularly of jets and helicopters, have exploded in recent years. Residents of the town and as far west as Queens have complained of a ruined quality of life and environmental degradation, particularly during the summer months.

Peter Feroe of the AKRF environmental, planning, and engineering consultancy told the board that a prior-permission-required framework at the airport, as the town board has sought to implement, would affect 24 percent of annual operations and 28 percent of summer ones there, or 1.6 and 3.8 per hour, respectively. Along with diversions to Montauk, Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach would see a 6-percent increase in annual operations and an 8-percent increase in the summer, and the Southampton Heliport would see a 43 to 47-percent increase.

Following the 2021 expiration of federal grant assurance obligations with respect to that activity, the board, on the advice of outside counsel and consultants and in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration, briefly closed and reopened a “new” airport as a private facility in May 2022. The intention was to implement a prior-permission-required framework and study the real-world impacts of it, including on nearby airports, and associated vehicular traffic, in the summer. That plan has to date been stymied by lawsuits and a New York State Supreme Court judge’s imposition of a temporary restraining order.

While the F.A.A. has reclassified the airport as a private-use facility, the town continues to operate it as a public-use airport.

The board seeks to impose time-based permissions, such as curfews; noise-based permissions, such as a reduction or elimination of aircraft that exceed a defined threshold; size-based permission, such as elimination of aircraft that exceed a certain maximum takeoff weight; a reduction or elimination of commercial aircraft operators, and various other permissions such as allowing banner towing, skydiving, ultralight vehicle operations, and touch-and-go operations, for instance an aircraft landing on a runway and then accelerating and taking off again, typically practiced during flight training. The town board is also studying potentially restricting or eliminating lead-based fuel sales or the operation of aircraft that utilize them.

Implementing a prior-permission-required framework is a discretionary action that is subject to the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, which requires that the town take a “hard look” at potential environmental impacts of its action before permanently committing itself to that action.

The draft generic environmental impact statement follows the town’s September 2022 release of an environmental impact statement scope, or table of contents, which defined the area of study. Last April, the town incorporated public comment received and issued a final impact statement scope. Since then, the town and its consultants have been preparing its required studies and analyses. Following public comment, public hearing, and a written comment period, the town will respond to substantive comments in a final impact statement and issue a finding statement, concluding the SEQRA process. The town would then be in position, pending litigation, to implement the permission framework.

The draft impact statement evaluates noise, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, vehicular traffic and noise, natural resources, and land use, among other impacts of the airport, as well as alternatives including taking no action, alternative permissions, and closing the airport. The focus is on potential impacts from restrictions at the airport on other affected airports.

Mr. Feroe presented an overview of the analyses in the impact statement and a summary of the board’s proposed actions. The consultants studied the period from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2022, and analyzed annual, summer, and peak-weekend time periods, with the assumption that any flight impacted by the prior-permission-required framework at East Hampton would divert to one of the other area facilities.

The study concluded that 58 percent of vehicle trips associated with the airport are oriented to the east and 42 percent to the west, the assumption being that diversion of flights would follow the same pattern: 58 percent to Montauk, and the remainder to Gabreski Airport or the Southampton Heliport.

But “we were not able to obtain the precise number of annual operations” at Montauk Airport, Mr. Feroe said, and estimated the total based on two sources. “Obviously a big difference between the 5,000 and the 30,000. We have no way of knowing precisely which is correct.” In any scenario, few jets can operate at Montauk Airport given its short runway. The consultants “replaced each jet trip that may have preferred to go to Montauk Airport but obviously couldn’t . . . with a non-jet operation that probably preferred to operate at Gabreski or the Southampton Heliport.” That way, he said, “we were able to maintain 58 percent of all diversions from East Hampton Town Airport to Montauk. We did that because we wanted to come up with the greatest potential impact . . . because we know there’s a special sensitivity with respect to the Montauk Airport, given its small size and its location within the town.”

Because Montauk Airport is private, it could limit noise impacts on nearby residences by directing operations away from those parcels were a prior-permission restriction in place in East Hampton, Mr. Feroe said. The town could also assess the feasibility of implementing sound-attenuation measures within those residences.

The draft impact statement also concluded that redistributed vehicular traffic would result in minimal changes: a maximum decrease of 21 vehicles per hour around East Hampton Town Airport during a holiday weekend’s peak hour, and a maximum increase of 12 vehicles per hour at Montauk Airport, eight per hour at Gabreski Airport, and two per hour at the Southampton Heliport.

Those wishing to comment on the impact statement have been asked to attend the March 13 public hearing or call in to it at 351-888-6331. Written comments can be submitted through April 2, or 10 days following the close of the public hearing, whichever is later. Comments can be emailed to [email protected] or by mail to the town clerk at 159 Pantigo Road, East Hampton 11937.


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