By Stephen J. Kotz
Meeting with local officials from the North and South Forks, newly elected U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin held a press conference on Sunday at Southold Town Hall stressing the need for finding a solution to the helicopter noise issue on the East End.
“The persistent issue of helicopter noise on the East End, summer after summer, has become an increasing impediment on the quality of life of many of my constituents,” said Mr. Zeldin, the vice chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation, in a release. “That’s why I am calling on the FAA to find an immediate solution for this problem, especially since it continues to get worse.”
The East Hampton Town Board is set to hold a hearing on Thursday, March 12, on proposed restrictions aimed at reducing East Hampton Airport noise complaints. The hearing was originally scheduled for last week, but was canceled due to a severe snow storm.
The hearing will take place at 4:30 p.m. at LTV Studios on Industrial Road in Wainscott, just south of the airport, as originally planned last week.
The town will listen to comment on four separate proposals. One would ban helicopters from landing or taking off at the airport during summer weekends. Another would impose a curfew from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. for all aircraft and a third would impose an even stricter curfew for “noisy” aircraft. A fourth law is aimed at limiting the number of touch-and-go operations, in which pilots practice landings and takeoffs, allowed by louder aircraft at the airport during the summer season.
Noise complaints, which once came from residents living on either side of the airport in East Hampton and Southampton towns, have expanded to include North Haven, Shelter Island, and Southold Town.
“Helicopter noise continues to be a substantial problem on the East End. It has, and will continue to negatively affect the quality of life for year-round residents and adversely impact our regional economy dependent on tourism and the second home industry,” said Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. “East End elected officials, representing all levels of government, must renew efforts to work together to facilitate an end point which is favorable to all of our constituents and the Town of East Hampton.”
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell thanked Mr. Zeldin, who was elected in November, for his support for “local control of the East Hampton Airport, the epicenter of the aircraft noise issue, in the ongoing effort to mitigate this noise, which affects so many residents across the East End.”
“Those who enjoy the benefits of the helicopter flights should endure the noise and pollution,” added Shelter Island Supervisor James Dougherty. “It’s as simple as that.”
“We are delighted and extremely grateful to the congressman for making aircraft noise abatement his first official act as our federally elected representative,” said Kathleen Cunningham, chairwoman of the Quiet Skies Coalition. “The East Hampton Town Board has worked in a transparent and comprehensive way to propose policy that will protect the public from the adverse health, environmental and economic impacts of aircraft noise, while supporting a safely maintained, recreational airport. In league with our Congressman’s efforts on the federal level, the noise affected can finally feel confident that their concerns are being effectively addressed.”
As the town board prepares to take action on the airport, the battle lines have been clearly drawn.
Last week, on the eve of the originally scheduled hearing, the town’s Budget and Finance Advisory Committee informed the town board that it would not be able to deliver a promised report on the potential impact the four laws would have on the airport’s bottom line.
Shortly after that announcement, Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesman for Friends of the East Hampton Airport, sent out a release calling the committee’s failure to produce the report a “major blow” to the town’s proposed legislation.
“The finance committee’s refusal to sign off on this deeply misguided proposal confirms the true economic hazards of the plan and the town board’s blatant disregard for these risks,” he stated.
Later in the week, fliers from the Friends of the East Hampton Airport were distributed around town, urging residents to oppose restrictions to the airport, stating the town board was poised to “vote to virtually shut down our airport this summer, which will be a punch in the gut to the local economy.”
The flier says the restrictions will result in lost jobs, local businesses closing, millions of dollars in lost economic activity, higher property taxes and lower property values. It urges residents to call at least 10 friends or family members and ask them to come out in support of the airport.
The budget committee is made up of both aviation interests as well as a group drawn from airport opponents. Representatives from the latter group cried foul, saying the pro-airport members of the group had intentionally refused to sign off on its findings. Since the committee operated on a consensus basis in which all members had to agree to its findings, the actions of the aviation interests effectively sabotaged the report, they said.
“The report of the committee is not merely delayed or untimely. It will never be issued, because members of the committee with aviation interests will not permit a report that shows any circumstances under which the airport will be self-sustaining,” said David Gruber, a committee member and longtime airport critic.