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Conversation with Kathy Cunningham

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Kathy Cunningham, chair of the Quiet Skies Coalition.

Kathy Cunningham, chair of the Quiet Skies Coalition.

By Kathryn G. Menu

The chairwoman of the Quiet Skies Coalition talks about the changing of the guard on the East Hampton Town Board, the finances at the airport and her hopes for quieter skies in 2015

 

This year has brought a number of changes regarding the East Hampton Airport, chief amongst those the election of a new majority on the East Hampton Town Board and the appointment of Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez as airport liaison. What impact has that had in discussing noise abatement at the airport?

We have already seen a positive impact. Kathee has my full confidence. She is smart, she gets it, she is equitable and she is really a public servant. She is not a politician so I think that really helps motivate her to do something that this community has been in desperate need of for a long time.

 

A subcommittee BFAC has been charged with looking at airport finances in an effort to complete a full audit of airport expenses and revenues. What does QSC hope this accounting will lead to?

It has already discovered revenue streams at the airport that have been unreported until now. Our hope is that the airport can be financially self-sustaining, which would free us from FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) grant assurances for maintenance and capital improvements there that are necessary. If we can pay for them ourselves we don’t have to keep the airport open 365 days a year for 24 hours a day, which is just one access limitation we could legally impose once we are out from under the grant assurances. That will actually happen as of January 1, 2015, a date I thought I would never live to see, quite frankly.

 

What are some of the other access limitations QSC would like to see the town consider?

Well, limits to helicopter traffic, enforceable curfews. We don’t have a specific base of information from which to make recommendations about how much that should be limited but early indications show 70 percent of noise can be addressed by an enforceable curfew and limiting helicopter traffic and I think that would go a long way towards mitigating noise on the East End, not just in East Hampton.

 

An Airport Planning Committee—made up of two subcommittees including those in the noise affected community and those in the aviation community—has also been appointed by the town board to look at both noise abatement and capital projects. What do you hope they can accomplish?

Before an alleged press release was sent out [by the aviation subcommittee regarding noise complaint data] I had hoped there would be an opportunity for the noise affected community to sit down with the aviation community and really express what our basic concerns are because I don’t think they have ever understood it from our point of view. I think the fear is that we want to close the airport, which is not what we want to do. Noise mitigation does not equal close the airport and if we just had a chance to sit down and discuss this it might help, but it has been so polarized.

 

What do you say to the noise affected as we go into a potentially sticky season when it comes to air traffic?

Well, this will be the last summer the town will not have the ability to limit access to its airport. As of January 1, 2015 they will be able to say, closed from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. or whatever curfew they demand and no one can come in unless it is an emergency or military operation. But this summer, we will not have those options.

What we really need the noise affected to do this summer is to call the noise complaint hotline (537-LOUD, 1-800-376-4817). Noise complaint data is a flawed concept because it implies without a noise complaint there was no noise event, which is untrue. We have not been able at this point to calculate complaint fatigue.

What we learned last summer in the court ruling that upheld the FAA’s ability to mandate routes based on noise complaints is that they matter—the complaints are data that matter. That was a precedent setting case.

 

So this summer more than ever, it’s important to call or log in with the town if you are affected by aircraft noise.

In terms of the complaint data, we are not raised to be complainers, and that is one of the reasons the data has shown a drop off. I know one person who logged 500 complaints before last year and just stopped. 500 complaints out of 3,000 for a summer is a huge percentage of that figure.

Part of our difficulty will be convincing those who used to call in to start calling in again. It takes a certain amount of dedication. But we really need this data. Recognize that this is a civic duty and you will really be contributing to an effort that will allow the Town of East Hampton to do something productive at the end of the calendar year.

East Hampton Approves Seasonal Control Tower

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At an East Hampton Town Board meeting last Thursday, April 5 board members unanimously approved a resolution for the construction of a portable control tower for the East Hampton Airport.

The cost of the project, estimated to be about $360,000, would be paid for by the appropriate airport budget account.  In other words, funds generated by the airport, which by law must be used for the airport, according to East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione.

The seasonal control tower is a type II action, which means the board didn’t formally have to seek a SEQRA report before approving construction. However, due to the importance of the subject matter, Stanzione requested an environmental review, prepared by the town, which he presented at a work session last week.

He said in an interview this week that he hoped the tower—which would only take about one month to construct—would be up and running by the beginning of the summer season, May 31.

The control tower would be staffed by an air-traffic controller provided by Robinson Aviation out of New Haven, CT, a company which, Stanzione pointed out, is approved by the FAA.

For Stanzione, the control tower is an important step toward decreasing the amount of noise produced by aircraft flying into the East Hampton Airport in Wainscott.

Most of the noise, he said at last week’s work session, “is caused by 10 percent of the users of the airport, who don’t observe our voluntary regulations.”

These regulations include restricting flight times between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., as well as making sure all aircraft maintains an altitude of 2,500 feet for as long as possible before touching down in East Hampton.

Stanzione said the control tower would help achieve higher levels of compliance among all aircrafts. With the control tower, he argued, the town would go “from an already outstanding 90 percent compliance—thanks to airport management—to an outstanding 100 percent using the federal regulations of the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration].”

While Quiet Skies Coalition member Kathy Cunningham said she supported the idea of installing a control tower in East Hampton, she’s still on the fence about whether or not the move will successfully limit noise.

“We’ve never been against the control tower in theory,” she said on behalf of the Quiet Skies Coalition at a work session last Tuesday, April 10. “We just don’t know what it will do.”

The Quiet Skies Coalition is a group of concerned residents from across the East End, which formed last summer in opposition to the town accepting money from the FAA.  While the town’s FAA contract will expire in 2014, should it accept more FAA funding before then, that partnership would extend at least into 2020.

The Quiet Skies Coalition feels East Hampton Town would be able to better regulate aircrafts with it’s own rules and regulations, without adhering to what the FAA deems permissible.

Simply put, she continued, “It’s untested. To be fair, you don’t really know what the results [of implementing a seasonal control tower] are going to be,” she added. “After this summer we’ll know.”