At a much-anticipated public hearing Thursday night, over 50 individuals spoke at town hall on the topic of whether or not the town should accept federal funding which would be used to construct a deer fence at East Hampton Airport.
Though improvement of the deer fence was the official reason for the hearing, the Federal Aviation Association funding tied to the design and construction of the fence is what has spurred much controversy and debate on both sides.
Those opposed to accepting the funding wish to be free from federal regulation so local controls can be enacted at the airport - namely to control noise - while those in favor largely say little evidence exists that such autonomy would be available, and the money is needed and should therefore be accepted anyways.
Airport manager Jim Brundige said, to the point of a deer fence, that "it's a wonder no one has been killed" by deer on the runway, showing photos to the audience of prior accidents between planes and deer.
"Let's not wait until this happens for the town to act," he said. Brundige added that the airport's surplus, currently around $1.2 million, would not be enough to fund all the capital projects needed at the airport, in addition to infrastructure maintenance.
Garden City-based DY Consultants, an engineering firm, ballparked an "early estimate" on the cost of the fence in the $600,000-$700,000 range.
Space at the town hall meeting room was packed Thursday night, with over 150 people attending. During the three-hour long hearing, those in favor of accepting the funding outnumbered those opposed by roughly two-to-one. Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said that the board received 29 letters in favor of accepting the funding, and 15 against.
Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the town board's liaison to the airport, said he wants to continue the discussion with the board next week, followed by a vote on applying for the design portion of the grant. The board left the public hearing open regarding the construction portion of the FAA grant, and will resume the discussion when the results of the design grant are complete - assuming the board votes in favor of accepting the funds.