Sag Harbor, Noyac and Shelter Island all had very high numbers of complaints about helicopter noise. This map shows where the “hotspots” of complaint density were. Image courtesy of HMMH.
By Mara Certic
Much like an earlier report did, the East Hampton Airport Phase II Noise Analysis report confirmed what many of the residents who are affected by noise on both forks have been saying for years: The problem is regional and it is extreme.
After over an hour of public comment from both airport critics and supporters on Tuesday, Ted Baldwin, of the environmental consulting firm Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc. (HMMH), presented the second stage of the independent noise analysis contracted by the East Hampton Town Board, as part of its effort to tackle to long-standing issue of noise pollution from the East Hampton Airport.
The Phase I analysis report, which was prepared by Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, Young Environmental Sciences and the volunteer work of Peter Wadsworth, attracted criticism from the Friends of the East Hampton Airport. One of the main complaints about the first phase of the analysis, which was presented to the board and the public on October 30, was the use of 2013 data, rather than information from this year, which they said was “intentionally misleading” and showed that the study’s results were “hopelessly flawed and unusable.”
Perhaps in order to dispel some of the criticism of the first study, the second phase of the analysis was done using data from November 1, 2013 through October 31, 2014. In that period of time, 23,954 aircraft complaints were received and recorded.
“That’s an extraordinary number of complaints,” said Mr. Baldwin, who began his career as a noise officer at Logan International Airport in Boston, he said.
“We never received that level of complaints,” he said, adding the number of complaints logged at Logan has increased, but still amounts to only 1,000 to 1,200 per month.
“So there’s a very good reason we’re meeting here,” he added.
Mr. Baldwin explained the analysis of complaint statistics, including how many times specific households filed complaints. The almost 24,000 complaints came from 633 different households, he said. The top 10 complainers submitted over 400 complaints each, with the highest logging 2,800 throughout the year.
Mr. Baldwin said this was representative of common human behavior, and added that 500 households submitted over 20 complaints over the year.
He also looked at where the complaints came from, and found that the problem “covers the whole East End of Long Island.” Using this information, Mr. Baldwin found that areas where the highest number of helicopter complaints come from are in Sag Harbor, Noyac, North Sea and Shelter Island.
Analyzing complaint data showed that helicopter noise seems to be the real culprit, particularly when there are frequent operations taking place early in the morning and late at night.
Using the program Vector, which records the number of flight operations, Mr. Baldwin found there to have been approximately 26,000 operations during the year. Interestingly, 25 percent of all operations were conducted by 25 specific aircraft—14 of which were helicopters, five of which were single turbopropeller seaplanes, five of which were propeller aircraft and one was a jet.
Vector data also showed the airport’s busy season lasts from May 1 through October 31, and Mr. Baldwin noted that it is not unusual for specific aircraft to conduct several round trips on any given day, particularly helicopters and turboprops on weekends in the high season.
Katie van Heuven, of Kaplan Kirsch Rockwell, the town’s aviation attorney, then explained some of the solutions the town is considering, and some of the ideas that have already been rejected.
“The charge that the town gave us as consultants coming out of the October 30 meeting was two-fold. One, help refine the data into a precise problem statement which Ted has done a terrific job of doing,” she said.
“And two, going back to that list of alternatives,” she said, “how do these eight categories of restrictions line up with the problem,” she added.
The analysts have already deemed certain options unreasonable alternatives. Doing nothing, using fee-based alternatives, residential acquisition, sound insulation and federal restrictions have all been rejected as possible solutions.
After Mr. Baldwin used data to precisely define the problem, legal analysts have found that time-based restrictions may well provide part of a reasonable solution to the growing noise problem on the East End.
They will continue to analyze other options before presenting a complete plan, including a slot system, which could limit flights by time or type, certain voluntary measures and by banning certain types of aircraft.
Many members of the public who spoke during Tuesday morning’s work session suggested that a ban on helicopters was the only way to stop the problem. A North Fork resident named Adam Irving said the newly formed North Fork Helicopter Committee supports a full ban on the aircraft.
Elena Loreto, president of the Noyac Civic Council, echoed that sentiment.
“I’m asking for a total ban on helicopters,” she said. “Please consider being a good neighbor.”
Both the first and second phases of the airport noise analysis are available on the town’s website.