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Judge halts effort to change East Hampton Airport

Quintin Soloviev
Wikimedia Commons

The Town of East Hampton is prohibited from deactivating or closing its Wainscott airport, according to a ruling Wednesday in state Supreme Court. The decision requires the town to conduct an environmental review before changes are made to privatize the facility.

The ruling by a Suffolk County judge was made in favor of Blade Air Mobility, a service that partners with commercial aircraft operators to offer air transit service to eastern Long Island, and elsewhere. They argued changes to East Hampton Airport would hurt charter and airline companies, and reduce millions of dollars in spending in the town.

The town tried in May to close East Hampton Airport — which has operated as a public airport for 85 years — and reopened it days later as a “private use” airport. The town sought to obtain “local control” over the airport without following the state environmental review process, according to the lawsuit.

In a statement from the East Hampton Town Board, they plan to continue to restrict air traffic. They argued for the case to be dismissed after their permit from the Federal Aviation Administration expired, and the town was notified in November 2020 that it would be allowed to open a new limited-use, local airport, requiring "prior permission” to land.

The goal would be to reduce carbon emissions and noise pollution from private jet planes and helicopters.

The judge said these environmental assessments are inherently "forward-looking" and "predictive," and therefore a state-mandated review — "at the earliest possible time" — must be conducted before the changes are made to the airport. The court also noted that the town "acted both beyond its legal abilities and in an arbitrary and capricious manner."

The town board said the “order does not address the years of hard work,” and coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“The Town Board is conferring with its outside counsel to assess any effects of the decision, to maintain the Town’s continued compliance with all court orders, and to consider the Town’s legal options, including appeal,” the statement said. “The Town remains firmly committed to ensuring that its airport best serves the community.”

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.