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Mar 12, 2015 10:42 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Community Largely Split on East Hampton Town's Proposed Airport Regulations

Mar 18, 2015 12:13 PM

Since fielding concerns from both pilots and residents at a nearly four-hour public hearing last week, the East Hampton Town Board will make a decision on a series of regulations aiming to cut airport noise in a few weeks’ time, with an expectation to tweak the new regulations once the 2015 summer season ends.

“I think the Town Board is reflecting on all the comments and everything that has happened until now, including the comments at the public hearing,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said this week, noting that action is not likely until sometime in April. “I think the Town Board deserves time to reflect on it.”

Mr. Cantwell also said the proposed restrictions at East Hampton Airport, if enacted by the board, likely will be tweaked once the summer is over based on what they learn about the impact, especially from those most affected by airport noise—making the summer of 2015 a trial run of sorts.

He defended the goal of the curfews and restrictions, which particularly target helicopters: “If it is going to have a meaningful impact on noise and complaints, absent quieter technology, you’ve got to look at the number of movements in and out of the airport to accomplish a meaningful reduction.”

If the Town Board approves the package of new rules, there would be a year-round ban on flights between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. for all types of aircraft; a ban on aircraft labeled as “noisy” year-round, from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m.; a complete ban on helicopters during holidays and weekends between May 1 and September 30; and more limits on “noisy” aircraft, allowing only two operations in any week during the summer season, meaning one takeoff and one landing.

Just a month after they unveiled the four new resolutions to restrict airport operations, Town Board members heard from both the aviation community and those affected by airport-related noise at a public hearing on Thursday, March 12.

Some speakers at the hearing, which drew hundreds from all over the region to LTV Studios in Wainscott, said the board still needs to answer two outstanding questions: how the airport could financially sustain itself, given the potential impact of the regulations on air traffic; and how other airports in the area might be affected by overflow air traffic resulting from the tough new rules at East Hampton Airport.

Many residents, of both East Hampton Town and from other affected communities on both the North Fork and the South Fork, pleaded with the Town Board to stay the course and enact the proposed rules. Pilots and small-business owners, on the other hand, warned of unintended consequences—namely, the potential closure of the airport and a major blow to the area’s economy.

“This is not an issue that should be pitting residents against businesses. It is an issue that should be able to be resolved in a way that serves all,” said Anna Throne-Holst, supervisor of neighboring Southampton Town, who urged the Town Board to hold off until the impacts are known.

Residents in the western half of the town have complained of noise from overhead traffic, especially helicopters, in the summer, she said.

“I don’t think we should be here belittling how badly this has affected quality of life … but I think we also have to understand that this is an issue where we cannot discount the undue consequences,” she continued. “I’m in my ninth year of being on the Southampton Town Board, and one thing you learned quickly is to start to anticipate undue consequences of what you put forward.”

The effect the proposed restrictions would have on the airport’s finances is still unknown. The Town Board has not yet gotten a recommendation from its Budget and Financial Advisory Committee, because the committee members say they could not come to an agreement on financial projections. Some members of the committee, like David Gruber, who has long been an opponent of airport noise, suggest that the BFAC in months past found that the airport could support itself for up to five years with some regulation, but that did not take into account legal fees that could result from enacting sweeping legislation that the aviation industry likely would challenge in court.

After presenting comments last week at the public hearing, one member of that committee, Peter Wadsworth, submitted a letter to the Town Board suggesting several ways to tweak the proposed regulations, which would lessen the potential for costly and time-consuming litigation.

“There are indications that the summer weekend ban on helicopters may not be solving the problem it is designed to solve, or may represent a bazooka where a rifle would do,” Mr. Wadsworth wrote. “The prospect of big-time litigation could ultimately cost East Hampton taxpayers millions of dollars … moreover, it is conceivable that the town could be constrained from even implementing the summer weekend ban for years to come while the litigation works its way through the court system. The prospect of years of litigation with no noise abatement benefit is depressing, at best.”

Mr. Wadsworth recommended a number of changes, such as a slot system that would limit the number of helicopters that could land in any hour and day, especially during the weekends, and a moratorium on helicopters on weekends and during the month of August, instead of every summer weekend.

He said that, combined with mandatory higher altitudes and alternative routes approaching the airport, would be a more rational solution.

"As one of the original proponents of airport noise abatement, especially for helicopters, which cause approximately two thirds of all airport related noise complaints, I commend Councilwoman Burke-Gonzalez and the airport noise subcommittee for proposing an aggressive noise reduction program for consideration by the Town Board in the form of four local laws," Mr. Wadsworth wrote. "Wisdom comes with time, and the Town Board has not had much time to consider the proposed laws, the unintended or unexpected consequences, or possible alternatives or modifications."

Springs resident Zachary Cohen, who sits on many town committees, also submitted a letter to the board last week pleading that the town step back and consider the impacts, and how a slot system, or at least phasing in the regulations, could better serve the airport and the community.

“If East Hampton imposed all four restrictions this summer, and a surprise recession hit next year, and we were limited in the landing fee increases, and we were deep into expensive lawsuits, I would be hesitant to say that the airport fund could get by without outside money from the general fund, from other towns, or private sources,” he wrote. “Are we preparing actions for the bad-case scenarios? It does not appear so. I end with a plea to continue study for a few more weeks but with broader scope. Brilliant people can be wrong. Have we prepared for that outcome?”

The board has not yet completed its diversion study, looking at what Montauk Airport, Gabreski Airport and the Southampton Village heliport could face should the rules be put in place in East Hampton.

At the hearing, Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, and others expressed concern for the possible overflow of traffic to other area airports. Mr. Samuelson criticized town officials for not including the Montauk Airport in the airport noise subcommittee report.

“The diversion study is a step in the right direction,” he said. “I hope it adds a detailed and meaningful analysis that is fruitful to this conversation, though I do wish it would have been available before having this public hearing … Three members of the Southampton Town Board all noted that they share our concern—the idea that if you squeeze a balloon in one spot, it will bulge out in another. Due diligence hasn’t yet been expended by the board to ensure that this won’t be a problem we will be living with this summer.”

Some speakers from the aviation community said the restrictions would wreak havoc on their livelihood and the town’s economy.

Keith Vitolo, a helicopter operator from White Plains, said he flies a small, quiet aircraft and arrives at 3,500 feet and departs at 3,000 feet, so as to make his noise impact minimal. But despite the strides he’s made to reduce noise, he says he would still be punished under the new regulations.

“I feel like I’m being victimized and discriminated against—I’m a helicopter, so I’m evil,” he said. “Last year, I did 1 percent of helicopter landings in East Hampton, and did 20 percent at Montauk Airport. I would like to keep my job and my career … please look at this more carefully before you put a ban on helicopters. I’m against the ban but for keeping your community quiet.”

But many of the noise-weary residents—some who drove from the Town of Southold—said they felt the proposed regulations are a step in the right direction and told board members not to allow the aviation community to bully them into dropping plans for the restrictions. Residents who live under flight paths and around the airport say they’ve waited long enough for relief.

“You five people have the best interest of the community at heart and on the table in front of you,” said East Hampton resident Patricia Hope. “You’re trusted, smart, experienced, and you’ve read and studied and listened to every argument by the Quiet Skies Coalition, the Group for Good Government, the Northwest Alliance, and you’ve listened to arguments, threats and scare tactics. You’ve seen all the numbers. You’re ethical people. You’re our people, and I ask you to hold fast.”

East Hampton resident Paul Keber admitted to calling the airport’s noise complaint line many times, and took offense when another speaker at the hearing, Wainscott resident Irving Paler, raised issues with the number of complaints and listed seven residents by name and how many complaints each logged.

He described what it is like for him during the summer to have to repeatedly call the complaint line: “I’m sitting with my beautiful wife outside my beautiful home on the back deck, when suddenly an overwhelming noise from a helicopter blade overhead forces me to stop speaking to wife, pick up the phone right next to us, and call the complaint line,” Mr. Keber said, adding that he often does that several times. “We were not named with the [seven] other people as ‘these people,’ but we’re proud to be part of ‘these people.’”

Despite the costs that some argue will result from enactment of the proposed regulations, others at the hearing said they want to see the new rules put into place, and let business catch up

“These resolutions embody the time-honored tradition of enacting a policy for the greater good and to help industry bring its standards up to community values,” said Kathy Cunningham, the executive director of the Quiet Skies Coalition and member of the town’s airport noise subcommittee. “We’re not asking people not to come here—we’re asking them to come quietly.”

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“Like Kathy Cunningham”...paid consultant for David Gruber, a name mentioned over and over again at tonight’s hearing yet not put forth in this article.....
By kevinlocal (47), wainscott on Mar 12, 15 11:06 PM
2 members liked this comment
By we could run this town! (129), the oceanfront trailer park on Mar 13, 15 1:46 AM
1 member liked this comment
Kevin, you might consider recalibrating your instruments. Mr. Gruber is identified in the caption under the lead photo above. Also, do you really have a solid factual basis for saying who is, or is not, a paid consultant to anyone? If not, you might consider retracting your statement to this effect.
By Nero (301), Sag Harbor on Mar 13, 15 10:38 AM
How does his inclusion in the photo's about make him right, you could put a donkey up there and a caption under it, doesnt it mean knows what its talking about. Stop fooling yourself that Gruber has your interests at heart. Why retract a true statement
By evan.catarelli (7), Wainscott on Mar 13, 15 1:58 PM
Classic drivel. If you can't discredit the ideas, try to discredit the person. The fact is, a majority of residents are sick of airport noise and the town board is finally responding. But why take the time to engage with that reality when you can pedal rumors so easily?
By Slightmadness (19), East hampton on Mar 19, 15 1:41 PM
"The Town Board has not yet gotten a recommendation from its Budget and Financial Advisory Committee”
That is because they can’t agree! Every member of the BFAC that spoke said they were on the BFAC but can NOT speak on their behalf because they know that the numbers DON’T work!!! Review the tape.... “I am on this or that committee “but I am not speaking on their behalf” that is because they KNOW they were rejected by a body of their peers, just like the ...more
By kevinlocal (47), wainscott on Mar 12, 15 11:33 PM
By we could run this town! (129), the oceanfront trailer park on Mar 13, 15 1:46 AM
1 member liked this comment
this is again a true statement, the BFAC came out themselves, and by their own admission, and reported by this same site, that they were unable to determine the effects.

Again it is a FACT that David Gruber's case was thrown out not three days ago by the appellate court.

Just because you may not agree, doesn't mean its a lie.
By evan.catarelli (7), Wainscott on Mar 13, 15 2:00 PM
1 member liked this comment
How is it a LIE if the head of the BFAC wrote this in a press release:
“A significant number of members of the committee do not support forecasting the financial impact of the proposed rules and attendant rules litigation, because they believe that the variables, especially after the 2015 summer season, are too great and/or further data, research and perspectives from industry experts as well as experimentation with all or some of the proposed rules, is needed,” Mr. Malman wrote."
By kevinlocal (47), wainscott on Mar 13, 15 8:57 PM
Wrong. The aviation members of the BFAC agree to disagree purposefully so the public believes the entire panel can not come up with a viable financial plan. The subcommittee all agree the airport can in fact agree the airport can survive, as it always did before, without FAA funding. The truth is with FAA funding in place, the town has NO right to implement any restrictions and that's what the aviation and lobbyist groups want so the airport can expand. Fess up...it's pretty transparent what ...more
By mcgrawkeber (47), East Hampton on Mar 20, 15 3:46 PM
On the contrary -- with so many statements in support of the board's proposals, one would have to have a major hearing problem not to have heard the voices of residents last night. No, they do not all live next to the airport---that much was adamantly obvious. Yes, there were the aviation special interests, who seek to continue their profit making at the expense of quality of life of taxpayers....but that is business as usual. interesting to learn how much those FBOs have amassed in profit.
The ...more
By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Mar 13, 15 8:15 AM
I doubt the community is split. The vast majority supports light planes but not helicopters.
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Mar 13, 15 9:31 AM
1 member liked this comment
Close. The vast majority supports an economically viable airport that services our community, local residents, local businesses, and encourages summer visitors who bring in so much income to the area. The vast majority supports reasonable restrictions on heavy aircraft and helicopters (ex: Sikorsky S92) to certain times of the day. Unfortunately, the people driving the restrictions train are hell bent on defunding and closing the airport, so achieving a mutually reasonable result is impossible.
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Mar 13, 15 4:09 PM
1 member liked this comment
I don't believe the end game of the new regulations is closing the airport. I do agree that the Town should present its plan for funding the airport going forward. Certainly those businesses that supply aviation fuel and maintenance services will be negatively impacted by the restrictions but one can't make public policy based on that result. Arguing that summer visitors will stop coming out here because they can't arrive by helicopter or large jet is absurd. The helicopter shuttle services are ...more
By jackiemay (23), east hampton on Mar 14, 15 9:07 AM
1 member liked this comment
Lie. "They want to close the Airport" is the same old lie. So is " it's only people who bought near the airport." So is " the economy will suffer." The vast majority of local people don't give a flying you know what about your noisy little country club.
By we could run this town! (129), the oceanfront trailer park on Mar 21, 15 8:29 AM
No one on the North Fork lives "near" South Fork airports and yet the North Fork gets significant noise from unregulated low flying helicopters and seaplanes.

The vast majority of East End residents and taxpayers want the right to peaceful enjoyment of their homes.

BLADE customers are opportunists. They take the flights because they can. They will still come to the Hamptons if they have to take a train/car. The scene is in the Hamptons and that ain't gonna change.

If ...more
By eastend11957 (8), Jersey City on Mar 13, 15 9:47 AM
Someone is drinking the Kool Aid.

By the way how is the weather in Jersey City?
By evan.catarelli (7), Wainscott on Mar 13, 15 2:02 PM
2 members liked this comment
Great post form out-of-state interests.... "Jersey eastend11957" isn't that near the Boardwalk?
By kevinlocal (47), wainscott on Mar 13, 15 9:03 PM
The way I see it. If the airport thing doesn't work out, East Hampton is due for a large King Kullen and I can't think of a more fitting location.
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Mar 13, 15 2:40 PM
1 member liked this comment
can someone please explain how a sound decision can be made about this without an economic impact statement. what was the revenue to the town from helicopters last year ? can the town make that up ? some idiot on the board must know that .
why was that moron jim brundige given free reign at his job ? it appears that the inmates are now running the asylum and a bad result seems likely.
By wmdwjr (76), east hampton on Mar 13, 15 3:22 PM
1 member liked this comment
That's why the economic impact statement is not available - they know it is not viable. The town's best proposal for making up the revenue was to increase landing fees by 75% (imagine if the ferry tried to increase its fee by 75%), tear down the brand new tower (the one that the same people demanded be installed 3 years ago and cost the town >$1M), charge for parking (despite the fact that the parking system would cost as much as it earned in revenue), and hope businesses suddenly want to rent ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Mar 13, 15 4:19 PM
1 member liked this comment
The aviation members of the subcommittee refused to agree so it would appear the panel could not arrive at the conclusion the airport could be self-sustaining. In other words, they decided to thwart the truth by pretending the panel could not see a viable financial solution. A most insincere response meant to confuse the public. The airport CAN be self-sustaining.
By mcgrawkeber (47), East Hampton on Mar 20, 15 3:37 PM
Helicopter flights have increased exponentially and we are all paying for it. Our local economy will do fine without them just as it has for years. The ramped up use of the Easthampton airport is a negative to all those surrounding it and those in its path.
Pleeese make the helicopters stop!
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Mar 14, 15 9:40 AM
3 members liked this comment
The idea that business would suffer in any meaningful way by noise restrictions at the airport is absurd! The only downside is the inconvenience caused to a very few mega-rich people who use the airport. Everyone else will be spared the noise pollution. Those mega rich people will still come to the Hamptons. Where else are they going to have a beach house in close enough proximity to NYC??????? The Jersey shore? And if a few mega-rich people decided to leave the Hamptons, we have more than enough ...more
By CommonCents (3), Sag Harbor on Mar 14, 15 2:27 PM
2 members liked this comment
The idea that business would suffer in any meaningful way by noise restrictions at the airport is absurd! The only downside is the inconvenience caused to a very few mega-rich people who use the airport. Everyone else will be spared the noise pollution. Those mega rich people will still come to the Hamptons. Where else are they going to have a beach house in close enough proximity to NYC??????? The Jersey shore? And if a few mega-rich people decided to leave the Hamptons, we have more than enough ...more
By CommonCents (3), Sag Harbor on Mar 14, 15 2:27 PM
The Mega Rich could go to Bermuda,Martha Vineyard, Nantuckett, Cape Cod...to name a few. Banning aircraft is a very bad idea. How about limiting the flight times and make helicopters fly in at higher altitudes. Rodney King once said "why cant we all just get along"
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Mar 19, 15 3:05 PM
Puh-leese. Retailers will not be impacted by the ban of helicopters.Those taking blades will come by limo, the way they used to.
The ban won't keep them from coming out or from spending oodles on their poodles.
By LI Lily (2), Sag Harbor on Mar 15, 15 10:43 AM
2 members liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By mcgrawkeber (47), East Hampton on Mar 20, 15 3:46 PM
So really, the only legitimate question there is then is who is the money behind the veil? Which money man wants to close the airport for his own pet development project? Whomever it is did a great job with some PR firm to whip up support for their vision.

If the regulations pass, my question is who would be willing to set up a new helicopter pad in Southampton? The business opportunity to add a pad or two would be very lucrative, despite the issues of a possible hostile government and ...more
By Inch_High_PI (29), Southampton on Mar 21, 15 11:15 AM