While a number of pilots attended the East Hampton Town Board’s public hearing on the future of the East Hampton Airport, praising initiatives to repair and reopen a damaged runway, the forum was dominated by Southampton Town residents who complained the town plan does not do enough to address the issue of helicopter noise.
The town’s master plan presently includes the construction of a seasonal air traffic control tower, the re-opening of runway 4-22, which pilots argue is the safest runway, but is in need of millions of dollars in repairs. Relocating Daniels Hole Road to create room to allow pilots to use the whole of the main runway for landings is also discussed in the plan.
With over 80 people in attendance at the town’s September 17 meeting on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for its Airport Master Plan, Supervisor Bill McGintee opened the meeting cautioning the crowd to keep the conversation constructive and specific to the DEIS.
“The last time we had a hearing it was at East Hampton High School,” said McGintee. “And we had comments like if you don’t get rid of helicopters this board has no guts or ban everything on the face of the Earth. This hearing is not about those issues.”
Kathy Cunningham, the chairperson of the town’s Airport Noise Abatement Committee opened public comment praising the board for initiatives like the addition of an Airfield Wind Advisory System (AWAS) and discussions about the construction of a seasonal air traffic control tower. However, Cunningham said the plan leaves out critical noise abatement studies and goals for the airport.
“My main concern is the total lack, or failure, of the EIS to deal with the noise problem, which in our view is the primary environmental concern,” said Cunningham. “The shortcomings of the DEIS really reflect the shortcomings of the airport master plan. There are no standard noise abatement goals or a noise abatement program.”
Cunningham questioned why the town failed to take advice from a firm it retained to study airport noise, Kaplan, Kirsh & Rockwell and called for a larger study on noise impacts. She added the committee feels the plan presents “an unrealistically low forecast for growing helicopter traffic.”
Southampton Town Board member Nancy Graboski and town planning director Jefferson Murphree joined the committee in their opinion that the master plan does little to deal with noise related to the airport – noise often affecting Southampton Town residents.
Graboksi and Murphree said the town supported the use of an AWAS system at the airport, as well as the construction of an air traffic control tower.
Graboski asked the town look at adjusting a current route over Jessups Neck, which affects residents in Noyac, North Sea, Sag Harbor and North Haven.
“What I would like to see further evaluated is adjusting that northerly route so it comes out further over Long Island Sound north of Orient Point and then cuts south over North West Creek so that it takes that traffic away from North Haven, Shelter Island and those areas close to the shore around Peconic Bay,” said Graboski.
East Hampton resident Patricia Hope said that while residents have been told to call in their complaints about noise, they could only take so much.
“They say when you hear a plane, you need to make a phone call,” said the Northwest Creek resident. “Sixteen planes in 16 minutes at 7 a.m. on a Monday morning – it gets a little old.”
Hope noted experts have deemed the route over the Atlantic Ocean and over Georgica Pond as the route with the least impact.
“My perception – as a citizen and taxpayer – of accountability will be greatly improved when the Town of East Hampton adopts the corridor its own paid consultants called better than others,” said Hope.
Bridgehampton resident and member of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt Sandra Ferguson agreed with Hope, and called for the town to recognize its airport impacts surrounding communities and nature preserves including the Long Pond Greenbelt.
“I am here to say we feel your judgment regarding approaches to East Hampton should keep in mind the equity and fairness of what I like to call the noise canker in the east of our town and to the west of yours,” she said. “Our plea is to be fair.”
Noyac resident Bill Reilly said the Federal Aviation Administration’s method of monitoring helicopter noise, which the town uses, is insufficient.
“Another issue that has to be addressed is the method of identifying and recording the noise from helicopters,” said Reilly. “The FAA permits 12 hours of 65-decibels of noise per day in each location. That is outrageous and obviously not suited for this location.”