The Springs Fire House was filled with local pilots on Tuesday morning concerned over plans to possibly eliminate runway 4-22 at the East Hampton Airport.
Representing the Save East Hampton Airport Group, Bill Esseks informed the board that 100 percent of Long Island airports have a runway similar to 4-22. The runway runs in a southwesterly direction to accommodate the prevailing winds in the area.
Tom Gibbons told the board that every one knows the safest way to land and take off, particularly in a small aircraft, is into the wind. And local pilot Bruno Schwenk said not only do pilots know that, but ducks and geese do as well.
The controversy over 4-22 began at a work session two weeks ago when the town board was discussing the airport layout plan that has been in the works for over two years. It had been decided at another work session that the plan would focus on repairing and maintaining runway 4-22, which has been shut down for over a decade, to be used as the secondary runway at the airport. However at the work session two weeks ago, the option of making runway 16-34 the secondary runway instead of 4-22 was discussed.
Town Councilwoman Julia Prince recalled the meeting and said, “It was presented [by the consultants] to us to scratch 4-22 and go with 16-34 instead.”
The rationale was because the take off patterns for 4-22 go directly over residential neighborhoods. She said, though, that the missing information at that work session was the notion of the prevailing winds.
Town supervisor Bill McGintee tried to calm the crowd on Tuesday, saying, “The discussion two weeks ago was not meant to abandon 4-22. It was meant to take a harder look at 16-34.”
Audience members on Tuesday speculated that the need to take a harder look at 16-34 was politically motivated.
“The town board was not stupid in 1932 when it created three runways,” said Tom Twomey. “They built all three for a good reason. So why would you decide all of a sudden to cut out a runway? I’ll tell you why. Political influence from neighbors.”
McGintee said the town was not in the position of ignoring those neighbors’ concerns.
“It’s easy to say, they built by the airport so the hell with them; but we don’t have the luxury of doing that,” said the supervisor.
Also debated on Tuesday was whether or not the town should accept money from the Federal Aviation Administration. Currently the town is working on a financial model to see whether or not the airport can be self-sustaining without help from the FAA. Critics in the audience said the only reason not to take the money from the FAA would be a political one as well.
Local pilot Bill Berkowski said the way he saw it, the town’s hesitancy to approve FAA funding was because they would have less control over the airport. He said taking money from the FAA would not allow the town to close down a runway during the day to appease those who may be “sipping tea on their front porches.”
Prince said on Wednesday, “Personally I think it would be unwise to not accept money from the FAA. Regardless of whether or not we accept it, they still kind of have their say. They control the place.”
She said the assumption over the years has been if the town accepts funding from the outside agency, they would not have control over the airport. She said, though, even if the town refuses funding, the FAA still runs the show to an extent.
It was decided on Tuesday that the town would move forward with a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on alternative two of the airport layout study. That alternative makes 4-22 the secondary runway and also utilizes 16-34 as an alternate runway.
“We are closer to finalizing this than anybody has been in along time,” said the supervisor, referring to two abandoned layout studies over the past two decades. “And we will get this done, if not to the full satisfaction of everybody, but at least to a passing grade of satisfaction.”
Top Photo: Tom Twomey addresses the audience at Tuesday’s brown bag session at the Springs Firehouse in East Hampton.