By Kathryn G. Menu
A group created to help mitigate helicopter noise from the East Hampton Airport is expected to make its recommendations in the coming weeks, alleviating the burden on residents, many who reside in Southampton Town.
The Multi-town Helicopter Noise Advisory Committee will make those recommendations to the East Hampton Town Board “soon,” according to Councilman Dominick Stanzione who led a gathering of the advisory committee in the Sag Harbor Municipal Building conference room last Friday afternoon.
The meeting was held in advance of a public hearing on Wednesday, May 1, at East Hampton Airport where the board and the Federal Aviation Administration took public comments on an environmental assessment of a proposal that would allow the town to permanently install an air traffic control tower at the airport. That tower would operate on a seasonal basis, according to a public notice about the hearing, generally defined as May through September.
In addition to public comments taken on Wednesday night, airport manager Jim Brundige will take written comments on the environmental assessment, which is available for review at the airport or online at www.town.east-hampton.ny.us, through May 13.
On Friday, Stanzione presented an update on some of the committee’s work, although he saved any specific recommendations the committee may make to the town board for executive session, calling it proprietary in nature.
In terms of helicopter noise, Stanzione noted for the second season, the airport will continue to collect data on noise complaints, tracking those against actual flights.
He noted that in the complaints recorded last season and throughout this year, Noyac residents have logged serious concerns about helicopter noise.
Last summer, what had been two dedicated helicopter routes into the East Hampton Airport was reduced to one, a route over Northwest Woods in East Hampton eliminated directly all helicopter traffic — on a voluntary basis. The sole remaining route took helicopters en route to the airport over Jessup’s Neck, Noyac and Sag Harbor.
“We have talked about increasing altitudes, we have talked about more precise flying,” said Stanzione at Friday’s meeting.
Stanzione noted the complaints out of Noyac have been generated across a broad swath of land despite the fact the dedicated route pilots have agreed to fly is quite narrow. He suggested dedication to a more precise flight path could aid in the situation.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst has asked the committee to consider alternative routes as a means of dispersing noise impacts, he added.
Neighborhood associations concerned their community may be impacted by a new route, added Stanzione, have been vocal in their own opposition.
Advice the committee would have about specific routes, he added, would not be shared publicly at Friday’s meeting. But afterwards, Stanzione said he expects that information to be shared with the board some time in the following week.
A group called The Northwest Preservation Society has sent out two mailings — one in March and one received by some residents in that neighborhood last week — urging residents in Northwest Woods, Shelter Island and North Haven to speak out against any plans to re-route helicopter traffic back over Northwest Woods.
In the letter — noting last summer was the first in seven years helicopter traffic was diverted away from Northwest Woods — that group says routing air traffic over the neighborhood was never appropriate.
“In 2003, after a thorough data based field study that cost $266,999, the professional airport noise experts hired by the town recommended a route along the LIPA power line to the west of the airport,” reads the letter, referring to the flight path that continues to bring helicopter traffic over Jessup’s Neck.
The letter from The Northwest Preservation Society refers to the Northwest Woods route, but fails to mention the LIPA route was used after the 2003 study — in a voluntary nature like all helicopter routes into the airport — at the same time as the Northwest Woods route. The town added a second helicopter route, for safety reasons, over Northwest Woods. Once an air traffic control tower, seasonal in nature, was installed last summer the Northwest Woods route was eliminated — a decision sharply questioned by residents of Noyac, as well as some members of the East Hampton Town Board.
Helicopter air traffic is regulated federally. At Friday’s meeting, Oliver Longwell, a spokesman for Congressman Tim Bishop, said while a North Shore route has been established keeping helicopter air traffic over the Long Island Sound, pilots can deviate off the route to get to their destination, and have the discretion to choose where they reenter the North Shore route when headed back to points west.
At the request of local officials, Longwell said Bishop has asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) whether they would have an objection to a voluntary plan worked out on the local level and administered by local airports defining those points of entry more specifically.
The FAA, added Longwell, said on a preliminary level it would not object so far as the aircraft were being operated in a safe manner.
He added the FAA has said they do not see any conflict between the current North Shore route and the potential for a voluntary noise abatement route into the airport.
“I would say this isn’t about a specific plan but in principle were a plan to be agreed on would they have any objection, and basically they would not,” said Longwell.
Both Longwell and Kyle Strober, representing Senator Charles Schumer’s office, said Bishop and Schumer supported a southern route into the airport to mitigate noise impacts resulting from the airport.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson wondered if the committee hoped to move out of executive session that afternoon with the goal of having suggestions on additional routes into the airport in an effort to mitigate noise impacts on Southampton Town residents.
“My hope would be to come back to the town board with advice,” said Stanzione.
Shelter Island resident Jim Colligan, president of the Silver Beach Association, said having grown up in Nassau County in Carle Place he grew accustomed to airport and traffic noise.
“You move out East and two things become precious — how dark it can be out here and how quiet it can be out here,” he said.
When helicopters fly around Shelter Island, even at an altitude of 2,000 feet, Colligan said it generates a lot of noise — particularly because it is so quiet on the East End.
“Obviously I would be in favor of a southern or ocean approach to East Hampton or if they are going to use the sound, bring it around Orient Point,” said Colligan, one of a handful of residents at Friday’s meeting which included Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride and East Hampton Town Supervisor candidate Larry Cantwell.
“The complicating factor is the U.S. federal law governs helicopter aviation,” said Stanzione. “Without voluntary agreements with helicopter pilots, they would be free to aviate any way they like. So what we have been trying to work out is a voluntary agreement.”
Shelter Island Supervisor Jim Dougherty noted in 2007, the town enacted legislation banning helicopter landings — outside of emergencies — in an effort to ensure its “quiet skies,” he said.
Wainscott CAC co-chair Barbara Miller said Wainscott already receives about 30 percent of helicopter traffic coming over their neighborhood in addition to noise generated by jets and planes.
“It’s not really a solution,” she said of the southern route.
The East Hampton Town Board will host a regular board meeting this Thursday, May 2, at 7 p.m. at East Hampton Town Hall.