By Karl Grossman
Foes of what has become a huge Long Island noisemaker — commercial helicopter traffic taking people between Manhattan and East Hampton Airport — gathered as warm weather neared and coming with it an intense increase of the chopper traffic.
The strategy mapped out at a joint meeting of the Quiet Skies Coalition and the Noyac Civic Council centered on fighting for reduced helicopter operations at the field. This is “the real solution” to the problem, not acceding to the scheme of airport promoters to switch the discussion to shifting routes and “turning communities against each other,” said Charles Ehren, vice chairman of the coalition and a retired law school professor. The strategy also calls for opposing Federal Aviation Administration grants to the town-owned airport which severely restrict local control, said Mr. Ehren of Northwest in East Hampton.
The packed gathering on April 20 at the Old Schoolhouse in Noyac was held not only on the eve of the anticipated onslaught of chopper traffic that has seriously affected communities under which they roar on Long Island, but it follows the FAA’s designation of East Hampton as a “regional airport.” This “demonstrates the FAA’s aggressive expansionist view” for the field, said Kathleen Cunningham, chairwoman of the Quiet Skies Coalition, based in Wainscott.
And, it came as the FAA considers designating a control tower at East Hampton Airport as a “permanent installation.” Ms. Cunningham spoke of how the tower went into “temporary” operation last year after being “billed” by East Hampton Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the town board’s liaison to the airport, as a mechanism for both “safety and noise abatement.” It turned out, however, that there has been “no airport noise element to it,” said Ms. Cunningham. It was a “bait-and-switch” maneuver.
The tower makes possible “an expansion of use” of the airport, said Frank Dalene of Wainscott. Although noting he is an airplane pilot, Mr. Dalene has long been a leader in the battle against commercial helicopter traffic at East Hampton Airport under the banner of EHHelicopterNoise.
John Kirrane of the executive committee of the Quiet Skies Coalition and a member of the Noyac Civic Council, declared that “the stakes are high” in the East Hampton chopper fight with “special interests who are masters of misinformation, deceit and outright lies” highly active. “In spite of their saying they are not developing the airport, they are developing it.” But “the good news,” said Mr. Kirrane, “is that we can still have influence. It’s going to take an alignment of people and communities against the enemy — people with an economic stake in the airport.”
There was a discussion at the meeting of the claim by some airport proponents that the opponents of chopper noise seek to close down the field. This was described as a “scare tactic” to upset recreational fliers and confuse the fight over the helicopter noise.
But, declared educator Barry Raebeck of Wainscott, “the airport does nothing for me,” and the message should be “unless you get control of this mess, we want to close the airport.” Mr. Raebeck said “500 rich people” should not impose their will on the general public.
“It’s time to start saying — shut it up or shut it down,” said Tom MacNiven also of Wainscott. Mr. Dalene agreed. “Fix it or nix it,” he said.
Mr. Kirrane said that if there is no action by East Hampton Town officials on chopper noise, he advocated “a boycott of merchants in East Hampton.” He said there are now “commercial interests investing in helicopters” for the New York-East Hampton route who aim to get to “a $150-$200 price-point” per trip. That would make chopper travel somewhat competitive to trips by bus to and from the Hamptons and a relief from dealing with the traffic-clogged LIE by car.
On the FAA grant issue, Ms. Cunningham said the way Southampton Village has managed its helipad along Dune Road provides a good lesson. “Southampton Village,” she noted, “never took FAA money and can control when choppers land and take off.”
“This is a political problem with a political solution,” said Ms. Cunningham, “and the time grows near with the 2013 election gathering energy for people to pressure their elected officials to take a position on the airport. This election will be a referendum on how the East Hampton Airport will function for next 20 years.”