Rumors that the FBI was investigating demonstrations at the East Hampton Airport have not been substantiated, but federal authorities were brought in to investigate a recent threat.
Jim Brundige, the airport manager, said on Wednesday that a few weeks ago he reported receiving a message on the airport complaint hotline from a resident of Southampton Town who threatened to shoot down helicopters and shine laser beams at the pilots, which is a federal offense.
The caller, a man, went onto leave his name, address, and telephone number.
"That one had to be reported," Brundige said and he called the FBI. "They did pay him a visit," he said, though he said it did not seem like a viable threat. "It's entirely possible that it was said in a moment of anger," Brundige said, adding the man seemed to be "shooting off from the mouth," perhaps angry over increased helicopter noise this summer.
Still, he said, "You just can't do that."
The man — who is not a member of the Quiet Skies Coalition, according to Brundige, and not a regular caller to the hotline — was not charged with any crime. Brundidge did not disclose his name.
Brundige said such threats against the East Hampton Airport are very rare. Several years ago, he said, someone left a message threatening to shoot people, and police investigated.
As for the FBI investigating Quiet Skies Coalition rallies, Brundige said an FBI agent did call, "to give me the heads up" about demonstrations, for the past three weekends. He said federal authorities do monitor protests at airports, but that those rallying have been peaceful and acted appropriately.
Chief Ed Ecker received a similar call, he said Wednesday. "I get call from an FBI agent with the aviation unit at JFK," Ecker said. "He picks up information that the group that's been protesting, that they may go a little bit further and go out into the tarmac to stop aircraft from coming in. He was just passing on information, he wasn't investigating."
Ecker said he called Cunningham and someone else from the department spoke to another group, from Noyac, which has been protesting, as well.
Kathleen Cunningham, an East Hampton resident and chairman of the coalition, said in a statement released this weekend that she was informed the FBI was investigating the upcoming rally over Labor Day weekend.
“I learned from East Hampton Town Police Chief, Ed Ecker, that the Aviation Association called FBI Agent Mike Lewis to investigate a report that civil disobedience had been planned for this week’s rally.”
The aviation association president, Irving Paler, denied Cunningham's claim. “The East Hampton Aviation Association certainly did not call the FBI or any other law enforcement agency,” he said. “That is preposterous. We did not know anything about it. Peaceful protest is part of our American heritage.”
Ecker called the discrepency in their conversation a miscommunication or a misunderstanding. "Kathy has been great to work with," he said, adding that police have no problems with the protestors at the airport.
Over 50 people took part in the protest of noise, and the July route change that has directed helicopter traffic over parts of Southampton Town, at the airport on Friday of Labor Day weekend from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
“I had a good laugh about it, to be honest,” Cunningham said after speaking with the chief, adding that she told him, “Have you had a good look at this group, Eddie? No offense to our protestors, but I’m just not seeing it.”
Cunningham said she had no problem with the East Hampton Town Police Department, who have stood by and checked on the protests. "Speaking with the chief beforehand really helped eliminate a lot of potential misunderstanding and opened lines of communication," she said.
“If only we had that sort of cooperation with the town board and the aviation community,” Cunningham added.