Frank Dalene, co-founder of the Quiet Skies Coalition, thanked the town board for their openness and transparency during the process of adopting airport regulations. Photo by Michael Heller.
By Mara Certic
People who have been complaining about noise from East Hampton Airport seemed elated on Wednesday morning when the East Hampton Town Board suggested a year-round curfew for the airport as well as other steps to limit noisy operations, including banning all helicopters on weekends during the summer season.
The steps, which would address 74 percent of all complaints while only affecting 31 percent of all flights, were outlined as the board heard the third and final phase of the independent noise analysis performed by Harrison Miller Miller & Hanson Inc., which was contracted to do the study by the town.
The first two phases of the noise study looked into the number of flights into and out of the airport and the complaints associated with them.
The third part of the noise analysis looked into different ways the town could solve the problem in a “reasonable, non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory” way.
“The town board recognizes the value of the East Hampton Airport to the community and does not want to impose any greater restriction than is necessary to achieve the town’s objectives,” Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said in a press release issued on Wednesday afternoon.
Councilwoman Burke-Gonzalez has acted as airport liaison since she took office in January 2014 and sponsored the draft legislation for the four specific regulations presented by HMMH Senior Vice President Ted Baldwin.
What the third phase of the study really did, according to Mr. Baldwin, was to predict the result of each possible restriction by using flight and complaint data from October 2013 through October 2014 so that the town would be able to gain a handle on how many flights and how many complaints would be affected by any rule change.
“We based it on 12 months of operations and complaints,” Mr. Baldwin explained,” the most recent 12 months of information we have.”
The four recommendations, all of which the town is considering adopting as local laws, collectively could address 74 percent of all aircraft complaints and would only affect 31 percent of the airport’s annual operations, restricting only the types of aircraft at the times of day, week and year that are associated with the greatest number of complaints.
The first restriction would be to make the airport’s year-round voluntary curfew from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. mandatory. According to the work done by HMMH, 4.9 percent of all complaints last year were associated with operations that would be forbidden if the curfew were enforced.
The second restriction would extend the curfew from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. for noisy aircraft. Noisy aircraft are those with approach levels at 91 decibels or higher. The town will soon be publishing a list of all aircraft that meet that definition, Mr. Baldwin said.
The third proposed regulation would ban all helicopter flights on weekends and holidays during the summer season. The summer season has been defined as lasting from May 1 through September 30 and the weekend, for the purposes of the law, would start at noon on Thursday and end at noon Monday.
The weekend helicopter ban, in addition to the first two restrictions, would put a huge dent in the number of complaints filed, according to HMMH. Helicopters accounted for 14,935 complaints last year alone, with 12,944 of those complaints were called in during weekend hours.
The last restriction would prohibit noisy aircraft from conducting more than two flights in any calendar week during the summer, in an effort to prevent touch-and-go operations.
All told, helicopter traffic would be restricted the most, by 75.9 percent annually, while plane and jet flights would be reduced by approximately 13.7 percent, if the town chooses to adopt the restrictions.
Peter Kirsch, the town’s aviation attorney, explained that each regulation should be presented as its own separate local law in order to give the public the opportunity to meaningfully comment on each specific restriction.
Violating the laws, if adopted, would be a misdemeanor punishable by fines and possible jail terms ranging from $1,000 or/and 90 days in jail for the first offense to a fine of up to $10,000 for the third offense. A fourth violation would see the individual aircraft banned from the airport for a period of up to two years.
“This was designed to make sure that users understand the town board is serious about the restrictions,” Mr. Kirsch said.
Local officials present were not prepared comment on the legislation, but many got up to thank the board for their transparency and inclusiveness during the process.
“I want to commend the town board for the openness and transparency,” said New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.
“This is how government is supposed to work and I think you’ve shown a fine process, it’s very, very important, there’s a lot of information here, the most important part of this is that it’s fact based and the public’s had the opportunity to comment,” he added.
Bob Malafronte, one of just two Southampton residents on the town’s airport noise subcommittee, also thanked the board for its work.
“It has been a hell of a long road, but we can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
A few aviation enthusiasts were present, and expressed their concern with the legislation. Bonnie Krupinski warned the town it was going down the path to closing the airport, and Cindy Herbst of Sound Aircraft said “even if half of these are initiated it’s the demise of East Hampton Airport and Sound Aircraft Services.”
Gerard Boleis, chairman of the airport planning committee’s aviation subcommittee, said his committee was unanimously against the regulations and warned that this could lead to “years of litigation and hundreds and thousands of dollars the town might lose.”
Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesperson for the Friends of the East Hampton Airport coalition, submitted the following statement:
“The town has proposed an unprecedented and drastic set of restrictions that would block access to a federally funded airport, discriminate against helicopters and other operators and will likely fail to ever go into effect for a variety of reasons. If enacted, the town board’s recommendations would essentially shut down the airport during the summer,” he said.
“In addition, the town’s 2015 budget relies on an increase in air traffic. Today’s proposed restrictions would cut traffic by 31 percent, thus creating a significant budget deficit and forcing property tax increases,” he added. Mr. Riegelhaupt continued to say that these restrictions would cause a decrease in real estate value.
Airport opponents say the incessant aircraft noise has already caused a decrease in real estate values, and that noise abatement measures would in fact improve the value of the property near the airport.
Over the next few days, the airport’s budget and financial advisory committee will analyze the regulations to ensure the airport can remain sustainable. Peter Wadsworth, a member of BFAC, said he believes it’s possible to finance a reasonable level of capital programs at the airport and that it’s also possible to make up the possible loss of revenue if these restrictions are put in place.
The town is slated to vote to notice the legislation for public hearing at their next work session on Tuesday, February 10. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 5, at LTV Studios. Comments can be submitted to HTOcomments@EHamptonNY.gov. A copy of all of the legislation and supporting data will be uploaded to www.HTOPlanning.com.