By Kathryn G. Menu
Aviation consultants and attorneys for the East Hampton Town Board informed board members this week that going through what is known as a Part 161 study could enable the town board to place restrictions at the East Hampton Airport as a means of noise mitigation.
At the same meeting, Councilman Dominick Stanzione was criticized by Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and Supervisor Bill Wilkinson for agreeing to a route change for helicopters this past summer without discussing it with the town board.
On Tuesday, February 5, the town board was given an update by its aviation consultants, including aviation attorney Peter Kirsch and environmental consultant Ted Baldwin, who led much of the meeting, which was organized by Councilman Stanzione.
Kirsch walked the board through some of its successes related to the airport — first and foremost the implementation of a seasonal air traffic control tower this past summer and data collection on flight paths, noise and weather.
He also reminded the board about voluntary routes pilots have agreed to fly into the airport, namely a North Shore route from Manhattan with a connected route over Jessup’s Neck and into the East Hampton Airport.
A second route, over Northwest Creek, was abandoned this summer once the seasonal control tower was in place — a source of debate later in the meeting.
Kirsch said a southern route, from the Atlantic to Georgica and over the sand pit in Wainscott into the airport has not been implemented yet. He said there is resistance to that route by both the Federal Aviation Administration and pilots, who Kirsch said were concerned because the route would increase the time these trips would take to and from the city by 25-percent.
“It doesn’t exist yet as a formal route and I would be irrationally optimistic if I told you it was going to happen any time soon, but we will keep working on it and we do need help,” he said.
Baldwin, with the firm Harris, Miller, Miller & Hansen — which specializes in environmental noise, primarily related to airports — said if the town is looking to restrict aircraft in any way a Part 161 will help them get there.
Baldwin estimated it would take about 18 months and somewhere between $1.5 million and $2 million to complete the process of a Part 161, which Kirsch later noted can be used to implement restrictions directly or as a tool to get pilots to the table to agree to certain restrictions.
Supervisor Wilkinson wondered what it was that set East Hampton apart as an airport affected by noise.
“It’s not an issue for many communities … We’re probably the poster child for that,” said airport manager Jim Brundige of the town’s issue with helicopter noise.
Brundige said the proximity to New York and the number of affluent homeowners and visitors who use the airport certainly has an impact.
Kirsch added because the airport is close to New York people avoid using fixed wing aircraft to get to East Hampton, opting for helicopters instead.
“You have a community that is unusually sensitive to noise,” he added. “Why? Because you have people who come out here to relax. The same helicopters flying over Queens are not going to have the same disruption in terms of noise.”
Kirsch added of the 20,000 airports nationally, just 5,000 are for public use and only 500 take commercial service. Most of those airports are not smack in the middle of rural, residential neighborhoods, but closer to urban centers.
Baldwin said that since last year the town has earnestly been collecting airport data, on traffic, routes, complaints and weather — data he said could be used in a Part 161 analysis to discover solutions that can be proposed to reduce noise impacts.
“The reason we are coming to you today is we are at a fork in the road,” said Kirsch, asking the board whether or not they should move forward with this study.
Specificity, he added, will be crucial to being able to get restrictions implemented. Banning helicopter traffic, for example, would not likely be viable but another solution, like limitations during specific hours could be.
Baldwin estimated it would cost $500,000 to get him to the point to be able to make a recommendation.
Brundige said that was not available in the airport budget.
“Unless we find that extra $500,000, the last nine years have been for naught,” said Quigley.
Quigley added she would like to explore this path as a means of noise mitigation before she would consider abandoning the taking of grant money from the FAA — another method of wresting control over the airport.
Brundige also spoke about how the use of the singular, power line route into the airport from the North Shore was a decision he made, with a representative from the FAA, the Eastern Region Helicopter Council and Councilman Stanzione.
“The result was hundreds of homes impacted by the northwest route, including North Haven and Shelter Island,” said Brundige of what he called the “failed experiment” to use the Northwest Creek route as a second path into and out of the airport.
Councilman Stanzione, he said, deferred to Brundige’s opinion on the matter.
“It’s nice of you to fall on the sword and say you made that decision,” said Wilkinson. “I am not sure that is adequate because the board should have been involved in that.”
“We have gotten roasted by anyone who lives west of our town borders or north of our town borders,” he said of the change.
“I think in hindsight, I should have brought that to the board and I did not,” said Councilman Stanzione.
Ultimately, said Kirsch, the town board has no true authority over helicopter routes — it can only make recommendations and the fact the town board does not mandate routes protects it from liability.
What is a liability, said Kirsch, is the lack of a real deer fence around the airport. The town has applied for an $80,000 grant for the design of the fence from the FAA, but Kirsch said the FAA would like a second resolution from the town showing it will build the fence at an estimated cost of $575,000 if they do provide that funding.
“The fence is critical in our view,” he said.