By Kathryn G. Menu
John Kirrane can’t vote in East Hampton Town, but he believes his quality of life and potentially the value of his Noyac home have been so damaged by the East Hampton Airport that he can no longer stay silent.
And he is not alone.
Kirrane was one of a half dozen speakers to take the podium at the East Hampton town board meeting during a public hearing last Thursday granting the board the ability to increase landing fees as a resolution rather than a local law.
After the hearing the town board adopted that local law and also unanimously altered the landing fees for 2013 at the airport.
According to the resolution, light single engine planes will see an increase from $7 to $10; light multi-engine propeller planes will see an increase from $15 to $10; single engine turbine planes will have to pay $84 as opposed to $74, multi-engine turbine planes will see an increase from $100 to $125; multi-engine turbine planes between 12,500 pounds and over 50,000 pounds will see increased fees from $250 to a maximum of $600 for the larger airplanes. Helicopter landing fees, depending on the model, will increase between $25 per landing to $500 per landing for the larger helicopters.
Projected landing fee revenues for 2013, based on this change, are estimated at $1,269,038.
Bur for Kirrane and the others who spoke at the public hearing, the primary concern was less about landing fees and more about ensuring noise from the airport is addressed. Specifically, they want to ensure the airport can financially support itself. They argued if the airport can support itself that would remove the need for the town to seek airport funding through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). If the town board does not take more FAA funding, the speakers maintain, the town would have more control over its airport and could impose restrictions that could contend with airport noise.
Kirrane said outside of East Hampton, the airport is not only becoming viewed as a liability for that town, but for the whole East End.
“I have spent my career in financial planning,” Kirrane told the board. “I have seen business plans that stink and yours — I grew up in Brooklyn — it doesn’t smell good.”
Kirrane apologized throughout his dialogue for his manner.
“But I’m angry. I have had your trash thrown in my backyard for the last 10 months,” he said referring to aircraft noise pollution.
Kirrane said many believe a desire for airport expansion by a mere few in East Hampton Town is leading the charge behind the scenes.
“The appearance to the west is there are special interests here that are creating a situation where the good of the people is succumbing to the good of the few,” said Kirrane.
“It’s extremely frustrating I don’t have the opportunity to vote on this issue, but you have imposed an incredible tax on me and my neighbors,” said Kirrane, who added he supports increases in landing fees.
For many residents of Noyac it is the events of last summer — when two voluntary helicopter flight paths, one over Northwest Woods in East Hampton and one over Jessup’s Neck in Sag Harbor, was eliminated to just the Sag Harbor route — that represented the breaking point.
On Thursday night, councilwoman Theresa Quigley said she, too, was frustrated that decision happened outside the realm of the full town board through a committee including airport manager Jim Brundige and town councilman Dominick Stanzione as well as the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council.
“It is a serious problem we have to grapple with,” said Quigley. “It was been handled inappropriately.”
Quigley added she believed it was the town board’s responsibility to deal with that very issue.
“There are things that once something is done it is hard to undo,” said Kirrane. “If you are to give up control of your airport to the FAA it would be a mistake of magnitude far beyond my ability to forecast.”
He added that as a 50-year resident of Southampton Town, it is not his ideal to see the airport closed.
“Local pilots who have small planes, God bless them, I have no issue, but when we have people using gigantic helicopters and private jets that appear to have no place out here you can’t create enough routes,” he said.
Kathy Cunningham, chair of the Quiet Skies Coalition (QSC) — an organization dedicated to aiding those impacted by noise created by East Hampton Airport — called on the board to create a business plan for the airport to ensure it was self sustaining.
“Without a proper business plan how is anyone supposed to understand the impact the revenue stream will have on the airport’s financial self sustainability,” she asked.
Cunningham said while for years the airport has sustained itself, she believes the creation of the seasonal air traffic control tower — proposed to be permanent and something she believes is an expansion of the airport — demands a full financial plan for the airport.
Without such a plan, Cunningham surmised, the town will be forced to take FAA funding, which QSC maintains will erode any chance the town has of truly controlling air traffic into the airport come 2014 when previous grant assurances under the FAA expire.
“We all know under the FAA restrictions that come with funding your board is inhibited if not prohibited from exercising proprietary rights” over the airport, agreed QSC vice chairman Charles Ehrens.
“I would like to propose the fees be vastly increased with a portion distributed to residents who have lost the peaceful enjoyment of their homes,” agreed Steven Levine, a Sagaponack resident. “People contributing to the loss of peace and quiet should incur the full cost of the use of the facilities they use to get here.”
Town board members, including Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc noted the fee schedule had been altered to match those out of other airports, including New York City.