In the Hamptons airport litigation

There are two main airports in the affluent enclave of East Hampton, New York, and now both are in turmoil.

East Hampton Airport, the larger of the two, had already struggled through months of legal wrangling over the city’s efforts to curb relentless air traffic. Then, late last month, news broke that a mysterious buyer had swooped in to acquire nearby Montauk Airport – also located in East Hampton – leading some residents to stumble upon the possibility that an unnamed tycoon was taking his could dictate rules.

As summer warms and the ultra-rich descend in helicopters and private planes, locals gear up for battle.

“It’s just a quality of life issue,” Montauk resident Bonnie Brady said of the noise. “You literally can’t hear yourself think all summer.”

The commotion began in January when the city announced it would close the East Hampton public airport and reopen it as a private facility; Any aircraft wishing to use the facility required prior approval. That, officials apparently believed, would solve at least part of the problem.

But over the next month, eight plaintiffs (including Brady) sued the city, its board and the city regulator, arguing in part that the plan would simply shift plane congestion to neighboring airports like Montauk.

“We already have a tremendous amount of summer traffic,” Brady told The Daily Beast. She stressed that while she understands why some residents near East Hampton Airport want to reduce noise pollution, she believes “there has to be a way to fix this so you’re not just spreading misery”.

Planes parked at East Hampton Airport.

Quintin Soloviev/Wikimedia Commons

Another plaintiff, Blade Air Mobility, argued in court that the privatization plan would effectively prevent it from operating out of East Hampton Airport. For around $1,000, Blade whisks Manhattan residents to East Hampton in just 40 minutes, allowing its customers to bypass hours of traffic.

Other aggrieved residents have also filed separate lawsuits over the planned closure, arguing it could harm local businesses.

Long a mecca for the wealthy, the Hamptons rose in popularity during the pandemic as affluent city dwellers spent more time in their second homes or moved there altogether. Rental rates have fallen from their peak, although ultra-high-end oceanfront villas are still advertised for $1 million a month or more.

Last year, 32,298 flight operations were logged in East Hampton, city documents show, a 27 percent increase from 2020 — one of the reasons officials have been keen to curb activity. The total number of flights peaked in August last year at 6,138, about seven times the volume in February. (In the past, the city’s population has reportedly quadrupled during the season.)

In May, Judge Paul Baisley ruled on the airport controversy after a flurry of legal documents. He issued an injunction preventing the city from closing the airport or “implementing any of the new usage restrictions.”

According to the plaintiffs, East Hampton did so anyway. In a June filing calling for contempt for the city and its officials, plaintiffs argued that the city had “for the first time ever” begun to force planes “to fully stop before loading and unloading passengers.” to shut down… what the how long these planes have to be grounded between flights.”

The plaintiffs provided additional examples to support their contention that East Hampton flouted Judge Baisley’s orders with new restrictions. “By hook or crook, it’s hellbent on restricting use of this airport, even if it has to destroy the airport to get there,” they wrote.

The court has not yet made a decision on this matter. An official at the East Hampton Supervisor’s office declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Adding to the upheaval is the new mystery owner of Montauk Airport and what regulations, if any, they will try to enforce.

The buyer, who reportedly spent around $14 million on the airport, has yet to come forward. Even Montauk Airport’s new manager, Neil Blainey, told The Daily Beast that he didn’t know the identity of the owner.

Some East Hampton residents criticized the city for not acquiring the airport, which would have given it additional control over its airspace. City Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc pushed back, saying in a press release that the city had tried to pursue it as early as 2019.

The problem, he said in comments reported by local outlet 27East, is that previous owners wanted to close the deal in stock for capital gains tax benefits that could be worth millions of dollars. But the city is legally barred from engaging in such deals, he said.

It remains to be seen what will happen under the new leadership. Blainey, meanwhile, chimed in on the hubbub at East Hampton Airport, arguing that closing it would be counterproductive because it would prevent the city from influencing air travel. Injured pilots forced to divert to Montauk could choose to fly straight down Main Street, only to leave it to the locals, he said: “It seems to me they’re shooting themselves in the foot, if they actually get close.”

Brady, as expected, also urged the airport to keep operating so the skies near her home in Montauk don’t get any louder.

“I don’t think anyone wants to live like that,” she said. “Especially when you’ve lived here for so long… And suddenly, phewit is apocalypse now.” In the Hamptons airport litigation


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