The Southampton Press
September 1, 2005
Levy Wields Veto On Airport Panel
By Karl Grossman

Suffolk Executive Steve Levy last week vetoed a bill that would have established a second advisory panel charged with overseeing operations at county-owned Gabreski Airport in Westhampton and, later the same day, the County Legislature failed to override the veto.

In his veto message to the legislature, Mr. Levy said the measure sponsored by Legislator Jay Schneiderman, whose district encompasses the South Fork, duplicates the work of the Gabreski Airport Community Advisory Board that Mr. Levy created by executive order in June. The county executive also said that the proposed legislation contains a “fatal” legal flaw.

“The bill appoints individuals who hold leases or have a commercial interest at the airport, and then grants them a role in the review of leases,” said Mr. Levy, a Democrat. “This is a clear conflict of interest.”

Mr. Levy said he was also concerned that Mr. Schneiderman, a Republican who lives in Montauk, appointed himself chairman of the airport advisory board he had hoped to create. The panel created by the county executive is chaired by Jim Morgo, the county’s commissioner of economic development. Mr. Morgo is charged with overseeing the redevelopment of the airport.

The first meeting of the Gabreski Airport Community Advisory Board is scheduled for Wednesday, September 7, at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held in the airport manager’s conference room, located in Administration Building 1 at the Westhampton airport. The meeting is open to the public.

In an interview this week, Mr. Schneiderman defended the merits of his rejected resolution. He said that county lawmakers have the right to solicit advice from community members who live near the 58-acre airport on matters impacting the facility. Mr. Schneiderman’s bill was passed by the legislature along a party-line vote last month.

“The county executive should not be blocking community input,” Mr. Schneiderman said on Tuesday. “If the county seeks to further develop this facility, it must include the community in that process. It excluded the community at its own peril.”

In March, county and town officials announced plans to revitalize economic development at the county-owned airport, namely by leasing land to technology companies focusing on homeland security. After years of debate, the county relinquished zoning authority of the airport to the town, a sticking point that had stunted the creation of an industrial park at the former U.S. Air Force base.

Mr. Levy signed the veto message on August 23. Later that day, the legislature held a meeting in Hauppauge at which Mr. Schneiderman made a motion to override the veto, an action that would have required 12 votes or a two-thirds majority of the 18-member legislature for approval. The measure received 10 votes, all from Republicans, while all seven Democrats and Paul J. Tonna, a Republican from Huntington, voted against the override.

Mr. Schneiderman’s bill would have transformed the county’s Airport Lease Screening Committee, a panel chaired by Mr. Schneiderman and charged with leasing space at the base, into an advisory council. This panel under the Schneiderman bill would have included a combination of county officials, pilots and others who use the airport, and community members.

“I was trying to compromise because the county executive was trying to get rid of the lease screening committee and turn it into an advisory board,” Mr. Schneiderman said, noting that he still chairs the 8-member lease screening committee.

Mr. Schneiderman said he wanted to replace the screening committee with a new advisory board in order to encourage more input from the public. He said that only two members of the lease screening committee—himself and Southampton Town Justice Thomas J. DeMayo—have a vested interest in the airport since they both reside on the South Fork.

The next meeting of the Suffolk County Airport Lease Screening Committee is scheduled for Friday, September 23, at 1 p.m. at the Westhampton airport.

In addition to criticizing Mr. Schneiderman’s measure, which he said fails to distinguish between quality of life issues related to the airport and the awarding of leases and airport facilities, Mr. Levy said his advisory group is encouraging more feedback from the public.

“I have consistently stated that community input is vital to any process affecting Gabreski Airport...,” Mr. Levy said. “We want to assure that the site is developed in a manner which is sensitive to the environment and maintains the characteristics of the community.”

The board created by Mr. Levy includes county officials, aviation experts and members of the public, including representatives of the Village of Westhampton Beach, the Westhampton Beach School Board and the Greater Westhampton Chamber of Commerce.

Issue Date: Southampton Press 9-01-05

Copyright, The Southampton Press

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