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The Mast-Head: Wrong Before

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 17:19

I can remember quite clearly the conversation with a friend who knew a thing or two about town politics. At least a dozen years ago, he and I got into it about if anyone really wanted to close the East Hampton Airport. I said no; he said I was wrong. Cut to, as they say, today, and it is clear that my friend was onto something.

The twisted history of the airport goes back even further, at least to the 1980s, when jets were the bete noir, as the town tried to respond to concerns about aircraft noise. The battle then involved how long the runways should be and how much weight the pavement could handle. If the capacity was allowed to grow, the fear was, commercial airlines might want to start flying in.

Helicopters shifted the argument and broadened the opposition. Each new Wall Street boom sent waves of summer visitors eastward, many with means enough to avoid traffic on the Long Island Expressway or, heaven forbid, the Friday afternoon trains-cum-cattle cars from Penn Station.

There was a time not all that long ago, when just about only Patricia Currie, a resident of Noyac and frequent letter to the editor writer, would come out with it, that the airport should be closed. Her position revolved around the fact that the minuses outweighed the plusses and that the benefits to the region were overstated, while the harm it did was widespread.

Ms. Currie might have been among the first, but she gained plenty of company. In the last year, the number of people willing to say out loud that the airport should go has demonstrably grown.

Frustration is at the root of it, and this is what my late friend sensed way back when. Various measures to limit helicopter noise, such as voluntary flight paths away from populated areas, have done little. Curfews only concentrated the disturbances further.

This year will be different. The pandemic turned off the stream of helicopters, and the sky was quiet. Once they resume flying, the difference will be clear — especially to the East End’s new Covid refugees now used to a more peaceful standard.

Will the airport ultimately close? I have no idea. Probably not, but as my long-ago debate shows, I have already underestimated the strength of the opposition.

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