Sunday, April 24, 2022

Already hot in East Hampton as town battles lawsuits over airport

The “new” airport will no longer be run by the Federal Aviation Administration. 
Suffolk County Court

The tony town of East Hampton has already reportedly shelled out $2.5 million-plus to battle a slew of money-draining lawsuits challenging its plan to privatize its airport — after angering just about all its residents.

Foes range from deep-pocketed East End moguls to private pilots, helicopter companies and even the estate of a builder-to-the-stars and his wife who died in a 2018 plane crash, with everyone furious about issues from flying curfews to new fees.

“We just want to sit down with [the town board]. …Them being all Democrats, they don’t believe in that,” metal mogul Andy Sabin, one of at least five plaintiffs, sniffed to The Post. 

The airport, which has become a much-desired tarmac for the rich and famous, plans to close May 17 and reopen as a “new” airport May 19.

The move means it will no longer be run by the Federal Aviation Administration and that the town can make its own rules — and East Hampton plans to do just that.

The new East Hampton Airport is expected to set a curfew for flights, allow only one flight per aircraft a day, set regulations for the type of aircraft allowed and prioritize privately owned jets and helicopters.

As part of the switch, the town would be able to collect $10 million in federal surplus funds allocated to the “old” airport — but at least a quarter of that dough has already been eaten up by the town’s legal fees battling foes, two sources said.

Sabin said he operates his business out of the Hamptons in part because the airport allows him to fly in clients whenever he pleases.

But he said he is prepared to now pick up and move to more welcoming pastures down south if the town’s plan goes through.

“I’m 5 minutes to the airport from my house in Florida, and I don’t have to worry about bulls–t, and the people are so nice.” Sabin said.

Local pilot and resident Kathryn Slye told The Post, “This town board is intentionally excluding the aviation community, ignoring the wishes of 80 percent of their local community and doing whatever they want.”

Under the new rules, Slye said, take-off and landing fees for small, locally-based aircraft will be bumped up in some cases from $20 to $300, kneecapping pilots and aviation enthusiasts who can’t afford the hefty increase.

The new regs also are expected to ban planes that use leaded-fuel, meaning no piston planes will be allowed to land on the tarmac, she said.

Lawyer Randy Mastro, who is representing the helicopter shuttle service Blade in its suit against the town, claimed that under state law, East Hampton needs to conduct a thorough and public review of the environmental impacts of changing the airport before it goes through with the move. The town board has yet to do that, Mastro said.

East Hampton officials did return a request for comment from The Post.

“The town is saying, ‘We are going to do what we are going to do and then study it afterwards,’ ” the lawyer claimed.

“That’s not the way New York law works. … It’s sophistry,” Mastro said.

Critics of the plan also argue that people won’t stop flying to the tony summer getaway even if East Hamptons limits the use of its prized tarmac. 

And if people can’t fly into the town’s airport, they’ll land in surrounding locations such as Southampton, West Hampton and Mattituck on the North Fork, potentially wreaking havoc in those places, insiders say.

Aircraft companies in the area are already seeing a surge in people wanting to buy their own planes and helicopters to guarantee summer flights, an aviation insider told The Post.

“There will be diversions to places that can’t accommodate this kind of volume — East Hampton Airport is the nexus of the entire aviation infrastructure out there, and it keeps balance,” the source said.

Scott Russell, the town supervisor of Southold, which includes Mattituck, said he won’t let companies such as Blade divert flights to the area.

“Whatever their solution is, they can work that out — as long as that solution doesn’t include the North Folk,” he said of aviators.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said, “I just don’t know if [East Hampton’s] will create a new set of problems for different residents.

“It hasn’t been analyzed, it hasn’t been studied,” Schneiderman said.

East Hampton is also being sued by the estates of the late builder-to-the-stars Ben Krupinski and his wife Bonnie — who died in a 2018 plane crash while en route to East Hampton Airport and whose inheritors still have an airplane hangar there. 

Suing through an LLC, the estates say closing the airport would breach the terms of a lease they have for airport space that doesn’t expire until 2027. Closure would inflict harm on the company that can not be compensated through monetary damages, the LLC claimed court documents.

Jeff Smith of Eastern Region Helicopter Council told The Post, “I believe that diplomacy had a chance” — but no longer.

“The 2022 season is only weeks away,” he noted.

While East Hampton officials have angered local pilots and the ultra-wealthy who will pay $400 for a seat on a helicopter to beat the Long Island Expressway traffic, local residents aren’t too pleased about the airport switchover, either.

“It’s a complete sham,” said Barry Raebeck, the director of Coalition to Transform East Hampton Airport, which wants the airport to be converted into public space. 

“The issue tends to get spun as the rich a–holes against the other rich a–holes. I’m a former school teacher. I’m concerned about climate change,” he said, adding that the people landing at the airport are the ones who live in 30,000-square-foot “climate monstrosities.”

“The people are suffering because we don’t have access to 600 acres of public land that could be used for better things,” Raebeck said.

Instead, residents have an airport “that most of us don’t use or hate,” he said.

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