As the former president of the Noyac Civic Council, Chuck Neuman has spent decades fighting to ensure the quality of life in the hamlet. In recent years, said Neuman, one of the major quality of life issues facing Noyac residents is a neighbor who keeps dumping garbage in their hamlet.
“Only this time it just happens to be airport noise,” he said during an East Hampton Town Board meeting on Thursday, February 7.
Neuman was one of several residents from outside East Hampton Town, including two women who traveled to the meeting from the North Fork, who hammered the town board for over an hour. In particular, their ire was directed toward airport liaison Councilman Dominick Stanzione as they complained about what they said was the destruction of their quality of life by air traffic from East Hampton Airport.
Neuman said if the board does not take some action, and give residents some relief, there could be consequences, including more intense demonstrations, he said, than what happened last summer at the airport.
“Things might get ugly,” he said. “For us, for you guys, for the travellers, for the people working at the airport. So keep this in mind.”
“I think there is general agreement aside from whatever is done in the short-term, the only thing to be done in the long-term about the noise plague affecting the East End is access restrictions on the airport of some sort,” said Charles Ehren, vice chair of the Quiet Skies Coalition (QSC).
The way to do that, reminded Ehren, is by allowing any grant assurances with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to expire.
The town board has voted, without the support of board members Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc, to seek funding from the FAA for a deer fence on the airport property. That would extend grant assurances with the FAA, preventing the town board, argues QSC, from instituting any real restrictions at the East Hampton Airport.
Ehren questioned the town aviation attorney Peter Kirsch’s presentation last week, where Kirsch suggested the town move forward with a part 161 study – a process through the FAA that has the potential to allow airports to impose restrictions.
Ehren noted Kirsch could not make guarantees about what restrictions the town would be able to impose under the part 161 study.
He also questioned Kirsch’s request that the town board, for safety reasons, pass a new resolution assuring the FAA they intend to move forward with the deer fence project, so they can obtain a new grant.
“First, please know what [the part 161 study] is going to get you, for the whole community, for the whole East End,” said Ehren.
Theresa McCaskie, a Mattituck resident, said she has endured nothing but helicopter noise for the past six years.
“I don’t live near an airport,” she said. “I live on the North Fork.”
Patricia Currie, a Noyac resident, said Kirsch’s characterization that East Hampton has become the poster child for airport noise puts the town’s reputation at great risk.
“So our storied international reputation has been replaced by the nosiest and most problematic municipality operated airport,” she said. “I don’t think that sounds so good.”
Barry Raebeck, a board member with QSC and the son of the founders of the Group for the East End, called the airport a “disaster.”
He questioned the addition of a summer route over Georgica Beach, noting it is one of the nicest beaches in the world, and a place he and his family escape to in the summer.
“You have to get rid of the helicopters,” said Raebeck.
Pat Trunzo, a former town board member, said doing a part 161 study will be incredibly costly and the only way to really negotiate quieter skies is by not taking FAA funding.
“The FAA wants you to sign up for another 20 years because they know that puts them in the drivers seat and they want you to do that because they know then you will have very little leverage over them and very little power to control this process,” he said.
Stanzione said the current board, in adopting an airport comprehensive plan and airport layout plan, has been able to open up dialogue with the FAA in a way the town never had before.
“I am quite proud we are the first board to announce we are pursuing a part 161,” he said, adding Kirsch believes it is necessary to win the right to restrictions if it is challenged in court.
Stanzione added the board has collected real data on the airport, another first, and knows the exact pilot, plane and time a complaint is logged and will be able to correlate that data.
“I am proud of the East Hampton Airport,” he said. “I think it is an asset to the community. Does it have problems? I think it does, but is it an asset? Certainly.”
“Anyone who thinks managing an airport is fun should have their head examined,” said Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who agreed the airport is an asset.
“I do happen to believe because it is our airport, we should take our share of the traffic issues that go along with it,” he said. “I don’t think it is appropriate to shed that to neighboring communities.”
Wilkinson said he was not sure when or how helicopter routes would be altered but believed it could happen quickly.
Apologizing for the route change – made by airport officials and Councilman Stanzione – that has brought virtually all helicopter traffic over Southampton Town, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said she was unsure where she stood on the airport issue, except she did believe it needed to be maintained and repaired.
“By simply shifting the burden one place or another or dividing it equally, it doesn’t reduce that problem. It doesn’t eliminate that problem and without pursuing a way to reduce or eliminate that problem no one is served,” said Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc.