Tag Archive | "Quiet Skies Coalition"

East Hampton Airport Debate Turns Contentious at Meet the Candidates Event

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Republican candidates Steven Gains, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Richard Haeg at Wainscott CAC meeting last Saturday.

What started as a run-of-the-mill Meet the Candidates Forum at the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting on Saturday morning quickly dissolved into a contentious debate over the East Hampton Airport. It was a debate that ended after East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson was repeatedly questioned by members of the Quiet Skies Coalition and CAC Chairwoman Diana Weir stopped further discussion about the airport from the gallery.

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Following a roughly 50-minute talk with Democratic supervisor Zach Cohen and town board candidates Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc, an hour-and-45-minute introduction and airport debate ensued during the Republican portion of the morning. Meanwhile, Marilyn Behan and Bill Mott, Independence Party candidates for town board, waited an hour past when they were scheduled to speak.

The Republican portion of the debate began cordially enough with Supervisor Wilkinson speaking. Wilkinson, who lost the 2007 election to then-Supervisor Bill McGintee, but won handily in 2009 after close to a $30 million town deficit was uncovered, detailed how he was able to streamline departments, cut 50 positions through voluntary retirement and present a 2011 budget that cut taxes by 11 percent. The supervisor’s 2012 budget, now under review by the town board, cuts taxes by an additional 0.2 percent.

But after his fellow Republican candidates, including town board hopefuls Steven Gaines and Richard Haeg, made their introductions, the topic quickly switched from finances to the airport.

The East Hampton Airport and its operations has become one of the most heavily debated issues in this campaign season, primarily due to the growing ranks of the Quiet Skies Coalition. The vocal group made up of East Hampton and Southampton town residents hope to control activity at the airport.

Cohen and town board candidates Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc have already announced their positions on the airport. In the wake of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) approval of the town’s Airport Layout Plan (ALP), which has led the town towards the construction of a seasonal air traffic control tower, the Democrats said they support implementing the tower, but would refrain from taking FAA grants and the accompanying assurances until they are convinced the tower would solve some of the noise issues and other environmental factors being voiced.

The team has called for a two-year comprehensive study of the tower’s effect, as well as the finances of the airport.

On Saturday morning, Quiet Skies Coalition vice chairman and Wainscott resident Frank Dalene credited Supervisor Wilkinson with his handling of the town’s finances, and said now it was time to discuss the airport.

Dalene recounted a situation last week where he had a helicopter fly within 10-feet of his house to avoid the cloud layer coming off the ocean.

Supervisor Wilkinson, who said he had been to Dalene’s house in response to his complaints, believes the airport is an asset. He said he would take FAA funding since it has already been taxed federally, and will continue to work with state and federal officials, as well as a new regional noise abatement committee, to develop solutions like a southern flight path over Georgica Pond and the installation of a seasonal control tower to address issues at the airport.

Dalene asked the supervisor to take his own data on air traffic “more seriously,” after which Gaines said the airport issue had “hijacked the whole meeting”

Noyac resident Dan Rudansky said the helicopter and aircraft situation was also impacting Southampton Town residents and that taking FAA money would not allow the town to have full control over the airport.

Wilkinson said he believes the FAA grant assurances actually prolong the town’s agreement with the FAA to 2021 and that he would accept additional funding in the future.

At that point, Weir — a former Republican town board member — began trying to wrest back control of the meeting, calling for an end to all airport questions.

“Why are questions being restricted,” asked Quiet Skies Coalition chairman and Wainscott resident Barry Raebeck.

Weir said the airport was a “contentious issue” and the forum was not hosted solely to discuss that one issue.

“It is the number one campaign issue,” said Raebeck.

“It wasn’t the number one issue four years ago, six years ago,” replied Weir.

“I didn’t have seaplanes flying over my house constantly four years ago,” said Raebeck.

After a discussion about the impacts of what has become known as “The Pit,” an industrial commercial property that, like the airport, has drawn the ire of some residents for a decade, Dalene took to the floor again, objecting to the fact that the CAC denied the right of Wainscott residents to speak about the airport.

Weir responded that she felt “things were getting out of control.”

Gaines added he felt the debate was “disingenuous.”

“To tell the truth, I don’t know what the truth is,” said Gaines. “I know the noise issue is intolerable. I know we have to change it. It just can’t go on.”

While the issue was not as hotly debated among the Democratic candidates, Cohen said he has gotten more emails about the airport than any other issue.

“There is a real division in the last 20 years that has not led to a good dialogue,” Cohen said.

Cohen admitted all the candidates for supervisor and town board believe the installation of a seasonal control tower would be a benefit. But he said he would not take risks that would shut down “future options to control the airport” until the town knew it would have full control with the tower in place. He called for a two-year-study to ensure that would happen before taking FAA money, saying he was not against taking federal funds, only that he would first want more assurance through a study, if elected.

Cohen added that even if the town gains local control it would have to use that power under approved standards, for instance, only allowing some of the less “noisier” jets to fly into the airport.

Raebeck said that while noise is an issue, and a form of pollution, he is concerned with the other kind of pollution being generated by the airport. “If there were a coal power plant being operated on that property, it would be monitored,” he said.

After the meeting, Independence Party town board candidate Marilyn Behan shared her views on the airport.

“The airport is not going away,” she said. “It is going to be with us for a long time and yes, it is growing.”

Behan said that she feels the town should take FAA funding, based on her research on other airports, talking with pilots and the FAA.

“It is better to be on the safe side than any other place,” she said. “We need a deer fence, we need to repair a runway, we need a tower to control the landings and take offs and their approach positions and we will be able to work with that once we have the ALP plan in place. I feel there is a noise problem.  That would be something for us to work on.”

Behan added she would like to see discussions about limiting the times aircraft is allowed to come into the airport.

Mott, a decades long member of the Bridgehampton Fire Department, which services Wainscott, said there are maintenance and repair issues that need to be completed at the airport. Like all candidates, he agreed the tower was a key component to controlling the airport. However, he said he would like to take a “wait and see approach” on whether or not to take FAA funding.

“I don’t know if we should take money for the next two years,” he said. “I like the concept, but I believe we should operate cautiously.”

FAA Opens the Door for Airport Tower

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Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration accepted East Hampton Town’s Airport Layout Plan (ALP), paving the way for town officials to pursue the installation of a seasonal air traffic control tower, which East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione said would increase regulation at the Wainscott-based facility.

However, critics note the approval also sets the stage for the East Hampton Town Board to accept more grant monies from the FAA, which gives the agency some control over operations at the airport.

The FAA informed East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson of its approval via letter last Tuesday, stating the FAA’s New York Airports District Office deemed the ALP “acceptable.”

“This fulfills a campaign promise-to get our airport into a more safe and secure position within professional aviation and just as important, to be a better neighbor,” said Wilkinson. “Now we can move on a seasonal control tower.”

The FAA’s approval allows East Hampton Town officials to obtain FAA authorization for a temporary seasonal control tower and the designation of ten-miles of airspace around the airport under direct FAA supervision, according to Stanzione, who is the town board liaison to the airport.

Supervisor Wilkinson said this would give East Hampton “effective control of our airspace.”

According to a press release issued by Supervisor Wilkinson’s office last week, town records show that the last time the East Hampton ALP was approved was in 1989.

“This is a historical moment in modern town history,” said Supervisor Wilkinson.

The newly approved ALP accepts the town’s layout for the airport as it exists today, in both physical and technical aviation terms, said Stanzione. The town board adopted both the ALP and the Airport Master Plan last year, although the FAA has not made any decisions regarding the sufficiency of the Airport Master Plan.

That document is the subject of a lawsuit brought by a group of residents last year, who claim the issue of noise was not sufficiently addressed within the Airport Master Plan.

“While the FAA approval of our ALP is a milestone achievement, it is part of a more comprehensive approach to managing the airport as a business and community asset, and to creatively and practically mitigating impacts of aviation activity, efforts Councilman Stanzione has diligently pursued,” said Supervisor Wilkinson.

The approval also allows the town the ability to seek funding from the FAA for capital improvements. Critics of the noise generated by helicopters and planes flying in and out of the airport maintain the town would be best served by allowing FAA grant restrictions to expire in 2014, rather than extend them by accepting more funding.

According to Barry Raebeck and Bob Wolfram, of the Quiet Skies Coalition (QSC), allowing those restrictions to expire would give the town the ability to return the East Hampton Airport to its intended use – a small town airport, rather than an airport that accepts around 80 percent of the air traffic volume seen at Islip MacArthur Airport.

On Friday, Raebeck and Wolfram attended the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to introduce the QSC and enlist the CAC’s support as the organization battles to reduce the amount of activity at the airport.

Raebeck said outside of the quality of life and noise issues many residents of East Hampton and Southampton contend with each summer due to the number of planes and helicopters flying into the airport, the amount of activity at the facility creates visual pollution, air pollution and is an environmental danger.

Wolfram asked the CAC to reach out to Southampton Town officials and implore them to ask the East Hampton Town Board to “control” their airport as the impact of the facility reaches far outside East Hampton Town borders.

“We are not trying to close the airport or attack our local recreational pilots, but return the airport to its original use,” said Raebeck.

He added the current town board under Supervisor Wilkinson have disbanded the noise abatement committee and refers to the airport as if it is a community asset. Raebeck said likely just one-to-two percent of the community uses the airport, with just two or three local businesses profiting off its existence.

“The helicopters and seaplanes are largely based in New York and Dutchess County,” he said.

Raebeck said the QSC was attempting to expand beyond its 150-membership to become a large organization with influence, and will be asking all candidates seeking office in East Hampton this fall to pledge whether or not they plan on taking more funding from the FAA.

“If the airport reverts to local control, we have local control,” he said. “We could say, no helicopters. We could say, from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. the airport is closed.”

“I don’t want a major, metropolitan airport near my house, or anyone’s house for that matter,” added Raebeck.

New Coalition Seeks to Limit Aircraft Noise

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By Claire Walla

In the height of the summer season, when many of the city’s Hamptons-bound denizens take to the skies to circumvent traffic, local discontent over noisy aircraft tends to bubble to the surface.

Two weeks ago, these sentiments coalesced in the form of a new organization called The Quiet Skies Coalition (QSC).

“The amount of traffic using the airport uncontrolled is mind-boggling,” said QSC member Bob Wolfram, a resident of Carlisle Lane in Sag Harbor.

He pointed to the very first QSC meeting to illustrate his point. When founding members of the grass-roots coalition were gathered in QSC Chairman Barry Raebeck’s backyard (a two-minute drive from the airport), Wolfram said he counted precisely 12 small planes, five jets and two helicopters, all of which flew over the property in the course of the two-hour meeting, from 10 a.m. to noon.

“We had to stop talking when they flew over,” he said.

While local efforts have voiced strong opinions against aircraft noise for years, Raebeck said this coalition (which already has about 140 members) represents a stronger, more far-reaching alliance, all united under the notion that airplanes and helicopters “are an aural and visual blight to the East End,” Raebeck explained. “They are for the benefit of a wealthy few, at the expanse of everyone else.”

East Hampton Town has currently set recommended restrictions on airplane travel between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. And it encourages planes and helicopters to travel no lower that 2,500 feet for as long as possible before reaching the East Hampton tarmac.

“They have recommendations, but no one is enforcing them,” Raebeck continued.

For members of the Quiet Skies Coalition, many problems with the airport stem from the fact that the town has collected grant money from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which in effect bars the town from regulating any of these restrictions. “The town has abdicated all responsibility. [The East Hampton Airport] is legally and technically an ‘uncontrolled airport,’” Raebeck said.

Airport manager Jim Brundige confirmed that airport regulation is in the hands of the FAA, which forbids the town from limiting access to the airport, even imposing time restrictions. The town accepted money from the FAA as recently as 2001 for minor repairs like repaving, Brundige explained. And because FAA grants carry a stipulation that binds airports to federal aviation regulations for a 20-year period, this means East Hampton Town must adhere to FAA rules through 2021.

Congressman Tim Bishop — who has been involved with efforts to regulate helicopter noise on the East End — said the town will have to decide, once the 20-year period is up, whether or not to continue receiving grant money.

“If they don’t, then the obligation would fall to the tax payers of East Hampton,” he explained.

In general, Bishop said FAA regulations are reasonable. However, “I don’t want to say aircraft noise needs to be reduced, but it needs to be regulated in some way.”

According to East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, that’s exactly what he, as the airport liaison, has been working on for the past year.

“Helicopter traffic is a regional problem that starts in Manhattan,” Stanzione explained. Along with elected officials in Southold, Shelter Island, Riverhead and Southampton, he said he’s reestablished the town’s relationship with the FAA to establish a southern route to the airport. (He said the town would officially announce the new route in the next couple of weeks.) Stanzione estimated this would cut traffic over the northern communities down by about 60 percent.

“We call it burden-sharing,” he added.

Stanzione also said the town is working with the FAA to get permission to place a seasonal control tower at the airport, as well.

“If we have permission to install this seasonal control tower, then we will have effective control in and around East Hampton,” he said. In the end, he added, “I suspect the town’s new relationship with the FAA will provide helpful improvements with noise management, and provide the best possible solutions for our neighbors.”

But the QSC is calling for more than just an additional southern route. Airplanes and helicopters, the group contends, carry more burden that noise pollution. They are also hazardous to the environment.

“It’s a quality of life issue,” QSC member Bob Wolfram continued. “The East End of Long Island is a beautiful place. [Little pieces] get chipped away over time,” he admitted. “But the growth of the airport has taken a big hunk out of our quality of life.”