By Kathryn G. Menu
A five-year capital improvement plan for the East Hampton Airport highlighting close to $10.5 million in projects for the facility was presented to the public last Thursday night. The plan drew critics concerned it could lead to airport expansion or new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grant applications, as well as supporters in the form of a number of airport users who called on the town board to adopt the plan for the safety of its constituents.
Following a public hearing, including comments from the town’s aviation consultants and airport manager Jim Brundige, the town board chose to table the plan to a work session in an effort to collect more information.
That was not before close to two hours of testimony from residents of both East Hampton and Southampton, largely divided on what the issue at hand is when it comes to the airport capital improvement plan.
Councilman Dominick Stanzione — the board’s liaison to the airport — opened the session noting it had been over a decade since the town hosted a public hearing on an airport capital improvement plan.
“Regardless of the reasons for such a managerial neglect, it is simply too long a period to neglect the maintenance needs of the airport,” said Stanzione.
He stressed funding these maintenance projects was not the subject of the hearing.
“That may be for others to decide,” said Stanzione. “I wish to those who do make that choice good luck.”
Brundige noted that in nine years he has been the airport manager, just one major capital improvement has been completed — a runway and taxiway rehabilitation in 2007.
“The main infrastructure of the airport is beginning to deteriorate,” said Brundige, adding he is concerned if the airport is not maintained, and soon, it could face closure out of sheer neglect.
“We are doing this because the community needs to know what the airport needs to be operational and safe regardless of funding, and regardless of funding, this maintenance is needed,” said Brundige.
DY Consultants president and owner Dennis Yap, who has worked with the town as an aviation consultant and helped it develop the five-year capital improvement plan outlined a number of issues at the airport, noting runway maintenance and paving, lighting and security as top concerns.
Rehabilitating runway 4-22, repairs to other runways, a new lighting system for the airfield, a deer fence and other security measures, the demolition and construction of a new hanger are just some of the projects laid out in the five year plan, which also contemplates spending $180,000 on a noise mitigation study.
Yap stressed the plan focuses on existing facilities and should be viewed as a living, breathing document that serves as a financial roadmap for what needs to be accomplished at the airport. It is not a commitment for FAA funding.
For Kenneth Lee, a local pilot whose business is dependent on the four seat, single engine airplane he keeps at the airport, the situation is serious.
“From my standpoint, this is not a question of should we fix the airport or not, this is my livelihood,” said Lee.
For Pat Trunzo III, the plan is lacking a number of details, including a detailed explanation of each project and a cost benefit analysis. He added that the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion has identified six items that did not undergo environmental review as a part of the airport master plan or layout plan. He also questioned whether or not this would create three runways with the rehabilitation of runway 4-22 rather than the two runways the airport supports now.
According to town attorney John Jilnicki, the capital improvement plan is meant to only highlight items that have already been vetted through the airport master plan or layout plan.
Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) member Bob Malafronte noted the plan was just made available to the public the day of the public hearing, and was not available on the town’s website.
“I am asking you people to slow down and give us more information, let us have the plan to digest this and talk rather than get this done in a week or two or whatever your plan is,” he said.
“For years the airport has lacked the necessary maintenance to maintain the airport and we can’t defer it much more,” said East Hampton Village resident Paul Scheerer. “That is why it should be out in the open right now, so we can understand the costs. That is just good government.”
Kathy Cunningham, representing the Quiet Skies Coalition said that while the focus of the hearing was not funding, it was impossible to talk about a $10.5 million plan and not consider funding. She also said she believes the plan, over time, would create a three runway airport.
“A three runway airport is going to bring more traffic to our area, more traffic to our area is going to bring more noise,” she said.
“Let’s take this plan and call it what it is — a bad neighbor’s wish list,” said Wainscott resident Tom MacNiven. MacNiven said the town must address noise and air pollution at the airport and study whether or not the airport has the ability to financially sustain itself without FAA funding.
Michael Norbek, who has worked at Sound Aircraft for 11 years, says this maintenance has to be a priority.
“The longer you wait, the safety of the airport is a greater concern,” said Norbek.
“The airport is a town asset and is an asset to the town and as such should be treated and maintained like any town asset,” said East Hampton Business Alliance representative Margaret Turner, who likened airport maintenance to roadway or dock maintenance.
“The airport needs to be safe and needs to be maintained in order to be safe,” said Turner. “These safety maintenance needs have no bearing on noise and should not be held up for noise issues.”
Councilwoman Theresa Quigley questioned Jilnicki and Yap on whether or not approving the capital improvement plan would handcuff the board to FAA funding, or would the board still have to authorize a public hearing to fund any of these projects.
Yap said the plan can be changed and resubmitted at any time and is purely a financial tool for the town.
Yap did say if approved the plan would be submitted to the FAA.
“So it is the first next step in acquiring FAA funding,” said Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc.
“You would need to have that capital plan to file a grant application,” said Yap.
Jilnicki added if the town were to contemplate taking a new grant from the FAA it would be subject to a public hearing as well as environmental review.
Councilwoman Sylvia Overby suggested a work session with Brundige where the board could explore the capital improvement plan in more depth.