Supreme Court opts against hearing East Hampton’s airport petition

The long shot didn’t pay off.

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court decided not to hear the Town of East Hampton’s petition to overrule a lower court’s decision that the town had no right to restrict access into and out of its airport by helicopters and other so called “noisy” aircraft.

In November, when East Hampton filed the petition, Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the Town Board’s liaison to the airport, said it would be an “uphill fight,” but one worth pursuing.

Shelter Island Supervisor Jim Dougherty — a strong advocate of local control of the East Hampton-owned airport — had characterized the move as a “long shot” and as “going to reach for the gold ring … maybe the court might toss out federal regulation and go for home rule.”

But it wasn’t to be.

After years of aviation noise complaints from East End residents caused by commuter flights to and from Manhattan, East Hampton’s board passed legislation in April 2015 imposing a complete shut down of flights into or out of the airport from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and banned choppers and the noisy aircraft from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. It also passed a town law limiting noisy aircraft to a single landing and takeoff each week during the summer season.

Since then the issue has been the subject of several lawsuits. Businesses associated with the aviation industry and a helicopter pilot organization sued on restraint of trade arguments and that the town had superseded federal authority on aviation.

On Nov. 4, 2016 the U.S. Court of Appeals (Second Circuit), in a 3-0 ruling, said the town had no right to impose the restrictions. By not hearing the case, the Supreme Court has let that ruling stand.

In a statement, East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell expressed his disappointment, but put one positive spin on the decision, noting, “the denial of a petition … does not mean that the Supreme Court has taken any view on the correctness of the Second Circuit decision.”

Mr. Cantwell said the strategy now to curb excessive noise is to focus efforts “through our elected representatives.”

On Monday, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) announced that legislation they sponsored had been passed “that will require any future long term financial agreements between the East Hampton Town Board and the Federal Aviation Administration to be subject to a permissive referendum, giving the community a voice on whether or not to accept federal funds and regulations as it relates to the East Hampton Airport.”

The legislators said the law had been sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for signing.

A group formed to pressure the town to close the airport, “Say No to KHTO,” said in a release that, “The residents and taxpayers of the East End (as well as beleaguered people from N.Y.C. to Orient Point) need to have our voices heard, need to have our rights defended, need to have our air, groundwater, skies and habitats protected, and need to close the hazardous waste dump that is East Hampton Airport.”

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