California city took on FAA and won: East Hampton to follow?

Santa Monica: Roadmap For EH Airport?

East Hampton Airport could be converted to parkland if a deal with the FAA cannot be reached.
Independent/T. E. McMorrow

It is a tale of two oceanfront resort municipalities and their airports, one on the East Coast, the other on the west.

Both have several things in common. As with East Hampton Airport, Santa Monica Airport has frequent traffic from private jets and helicopters carrying the rich and famous. As with East Hampton Town, the City of Santa Monica is bordered on one side by an ocean. Unlike East Hampton, however, Santa Monica is bordered on its other three sides by a major city, Los Angeles, and is developed residentially right up to the fences surrounding the 187-acre airport.

The Santa Monica Airport is two miles from the Pacific Ocean, while East Hampton Airport is about the same distance from the Atlantic.

As with East Hampton, Santa Monica had accepted grant money from the federal government for improvements to the airport, with the last funds being accepted in 2003. In return, the municipality agreed to keep the airport open for 20 years after the money was received. In the case of East Hampton, the town agreed to keep its airport running, after receiving past grants, until September 2021.

One more thing the two have in common: their lead attorney dealing with the FAA, Bill O’Connor.

Santa Monica has tried for years to close its airport, citing noise complaints, pollution, and safety factors. The latter point was highlighted when actor Harrison Ford crash-landed a vintage 1942 Ryan Aeronautical ST3KR single engine plane on the Penmar Golf Course blocks from Santa Monica Airport, from where he had just taken off, in March 2015.

The FAA insisted, through various court actions, that Santa Monica had to run the airport in perpetuity, due to a post-World War II agreement with the federal government.

O’Connor took the FAA to court. The settlement the city and the FAA came to in January 2017 was a breakthrough for municipalities taking on the FAA.

In return for Santa Monica running the airport for five additional years past the original 2023 grant deadline, the FAA agreed to allow it to immediately shorten its runway, and to allow the city to close the airport permanently at the end of 2028. That land is to be converted to parkland.

O’Connor told the East Hampton Town Board, which is at loggerheads with the FAA over noise complaints, that the town should explore the possibility of converting the airport to parkland, with, perhaps, a much shorter runway at the airport, if there is to be an airport at all.

t.e@indyeastend.com