By Kathryn G. Menu
A purchase order for $261,985 to cover consultant costs at the East Hampton Airport led to a heated exchange Tuesday at the East Hampton Town Board work session, with Councilwoman Theresa Quigley charging that Councilman Dominick Stanzione is acting like a “rogue” board member when it comes to the airport.
The purchase order—filed not before, but after work was completed, according to budget officer Len Bernard—covered, in part, $200,000 for an environmental assessment form (EFA) required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the control tower at the airport.
While the airport has budgeted a total of $945,000 to cover expenses related to consultants and attorneys, according to airport manager Jim Brundige, the $200,000 needed to cover the EAF was an unanticipated expense and was not budgeted for.
Councilwoman Quigley said her concern was that the town board never authorized this expense. In fact, said Quigley, receiving the purchase order was the first time she was made aware the airport needed a second EAF drafted at the request of the FAA.
According to Brundige, while the town completed its own EAF for the control tower last year, under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) standards, the FAA required a federal EAF be drafted in order to get the tower up and running for this summer season.
“Where was the discussion when this happened,” asked Quigley. “The idea of getting a $200,000 bill we did not approve of is startling.”
Councilman Stanzione argued that when the board approved a resolution to empower its aviation consultants—DY Consultants—to ensure the control tower would be operational this summer it effectively did sign off on the expenditure as it was a necessary cost.
“Getting the control tower was the principle thing in terms of safety at the airport,” said Stanzione, adding that responsibility was delegated to the airport engineers. He added the airport has a budget for over $900,000 for consultant and legal fees and that fees were increased at the airport to cover those costs.
However, Bernard noted fees were increased to cover the anticipated $945,000 in expenditures. This cost, he said, is extra.
“The airport budget is a stand-alone budget,” said Brundige. “It does not come from the taxpayers.”
Brundige said the airport has saved a $2 million surplus and because of the “extraordinary” expenses incurred in the last two years at the airport that surplus may be dipped into.
“At some point we as a town board should be brought in on this,” said Quigley, her voice rising to a yell. She added she feels as if Stanzione is acting alone, and not on behalf of the town board, in terms of the airport and is directing the airport on operations.
“I think, Jim, you did a great job in getting that tower up and I thank our consultants, DY, for making that happen,” said Stanzione.
“Deflection,” said Quigley, adding she would not approve the purchase order.
Bernard said his office was concerned to receive such a large bill after services were performed rather than before—the standard—and that because of the expenditure the airport will not have the funding within its existing budget to finish paying for the control tower.
“[The airport budget] will be over by $200,000, at least,” said Bernard. “I am thinking it may be more like $300,000.”
“From my perspective, this has become a situation where we need to get control of this situation,” added Bernard.
Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said he is concerned because it appears most of the funding budgeted for airport consultants and legal fees is spent. What happens, wondered Van Scoyoc, when he wants to reach out to the town’s aviation attorney on an issue like the potential implementation of a southern route into the airport over Wainscott. The issue was raised, said Van Scoyoc, at a Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).
“My ability talking to counsel sounds like it is in jeopardy,” said Van Scoyoc.
Quigley asked Brundige to send correspondence regarding the airport to all board members, rather than just Stanzione.
“Because this is a dangerous, dangerous slope we are on,” said Quigley.