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Mar 11, 2015 4:22 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Airport Opponents' Lawsuit Dismissed By Appellate Court

Mar 17, 2015 1:10 PM

A 2010 lawsuit filed against East Hampton Town by the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion, which challenged the town’s updated Airport Master Plan, calling it inadequate in determining aircraft noise disturbance, was dismissed on appeal on March 11.

The complaint, argued in the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court on January 16, was brought against former Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and his fellow Town Board members. It charged that the master plan’s environmental impact study was inaccurate because of the methodology used to determine the impacts of noise from the airport.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs included David Gruber of East Hampton, Barbara Miller of Wainscott, Robert and Barbara Wolfram of Sag Harbor, and Stephen Levine of Southampton. It claimed that the town’s environmental impact study on the airport, known as the final generic environmental impact statement, or FGEIS, did not include a section on noise complaints and used faulty data to ultimately determine that there were no serious effects of noise from the airport on the surrounding residential areas.

However, the justices in the case found that the report was sufficient and that the town had fulfilled its obligations under the State Environmental Quality Review Act “by taking a hard look at the potential noise impacts of the proposed actions and made a reasonable elaboration of the basis for its determination in the final generic environmental impact statement, which thoroughly analyzed noise data and potential mitigation based upon noise averaging methodology,” the decision reads in part.

The plaintiffs had argued that the federal noise data standard used by the town averaged noise levels over one year, rendering them meaningless because of the high level of traffic in summer and virtual absence of traffic in winter. The plaintiffs said that they had proposed an alternative “single event standard” that would measure the disturbance of noise based on individual instances, thereby highlighting the effects of a single aircraft operation on the noise level, but that the town had turned them down.

However, the appellate court agreed with the town. “Although the petitioners disagree with the use of the noise averaging methodology, the determination of the Town Board is supported by accepted governmental guidelines for measuring noise impacts around airports,” the decision said. “The FGEIS need not identify or discuss every conceivable alternative, including the particular alternative proposed by the petitioners.”

Pat Trunzo, chair of the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion, explained that the averaging standard of measuring noise is inappropriate for East Hampton Airport because activity at the town-owned airport spikes for only two to three months of the year, and nine months of relative quiet are then averaged into the overall noise level.

“It really isn’t valid for anything other than metropolitan airports that operate seven days a week for 365 days a year,” Mr. Trunzo said following the court’s decision.

Mr. Gruber called the ruling unfortunate. “I don’t think SEQRA makes any sense if you can just declare that an obvious problem doesn’t exist,” he said. “It’s like climate change denial. At some point, the denial becomes unsustainable—and we’ve reached that point.”

The environmental impact study was completed in August of 2010 by the consulting firm Young Environmental Sciences. The Town Board accepted its findings and updated the master plan on September 2.

The Airport Master Plan, known as the Airport Layout Plan, or ALP, is used by the Federal Aviation Administration to plan its funding allotments for the years ahead. Grants from the FAA pay for 90 percent of airport capital projects with a portion of the money collected from ticket sales and other fees.

East Hampton’s 2010 ALP was completed by then-Councilman and town airport liaison Dominic Stanzione. The Town Board signed off on the plan but did not follow through on accepting grant money from the FAA for capital improvements that are still required, such as the paving of Runway 4-22, upgrades and expansion of the fuel farm, the installation of deer fencing to prevent accidents during landings and takeoffs, the removal of trees and runway obstructions, and other necessary capital improvements.

Mr. Stanzione said that the ruling is a victory for the Town of East Hampton and its ALP, having received the approval of the state’s highest court. “It validates the hard work that all town planning professionals performed on this historic matter,” he said. “Having a fully litigated Airport Master Plan offers a foundation for all future activity at the airport.”

The current Town Board hired consultants to complete a separate noise study in 2014. It included analysis of noise complaints by residents, the effects of different flight paths on homes below and the noise levels of various types of aircraft.

No longer tied to federal regulations on airport operations by certain FAA grant assurances, the Town Board then proposed several restrictions on operations at the airport to help alleviate noise. But some argue that limiting operations could squeeze the airport’s finances and make it difficult to pay for the capital improvements. A public hearing on the proposed restrictions was held on Thursday, March 12.

Mr. Gruber added that he didn’t find the ruling to be of particular consequence. “What was said by a town board five years ago really doesn’t matter,” he said. “The current Town Board has built a record that overwhelmingly established that there’s noise all over the place, so the court ruling doesn’t matter anymore. The board now overwhelmingly acknowledged the problem.”

Mr. Trunzo agreed that the outcome of the 2010 lawsuit is irrelevant since the Town Board allowed some FAA grant assurances to expire in December and is now free to set limits on aircraft operations. He added that he welcomes the proposed restrictions.

“I think, for the first time in decades, we have a Town Board that is willing to seriously address the aircraft noise problem and deliver significant relief to the East End,” Mr. Trunzo said.

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Will not be at the meeting but I have lived in the path of landing and departing planes and helicopters and I do not live really near the "airport" but am in the path along the ocean. Please take a look at what North Key Largo , and the ORC has done to limit flights. It is not ok for super wealthy people to fly just anytime they want . The noise,pollution and danger are real issues.
By Water Girl (16), East hampton on Mar 11, 15 6:24 PM
1 member liked this comment
If you mean Ocean Reef Airport, that's a PRIVATE airport. You cannot even land unless you are a member or registered guest with advance registration. As a private airport they can restrict it any way they want. HTO never has been and never could be a private airport. Orange City Municipal (ORC) is a tiny little airport in Iowa that doesn't have any restrictions whatsoever because it's in the middle of nowhere. The cars, trucks, buses, and trains on the east end cause significantly more pollution ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Mar 12, 15 12:01 AM
He with the most cash wins. This is not a cynical wisecrack; it's a fact. This isn't your father's America.

A lot of people who think they're rich have no clue how mega rich other people are nowadays, You havent got a chance of winning against people with more money. Politicians, lawyers, judges are all legally getting scads of money from lobbyists and organizations in the form of campaign funds, consulting fees, board memberships. It's all legal nowadays and even when it isn't, they'll ...more
By btdt (449), water mill on Mar 11, 15 7:19 PM
1 member liked this comment
No, they are not going to win this one. All it takes is people with a lot of stamina and a lot of passion and a lot of guts. And we have them. We outnumber them. Join us. there are several groups all working against what you describe and who are committed t not giving up this battle. Whether this year or next, we WILL win.
By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Mar 11, 15 8:39 PM
1 member liked this comment
So much for your earlier hollow claims of wanting to find a compromise. It's all about winning at any cost to you - regardless of the damage you will cause this community, local residents, and local businesses. No, you will not "win". You will continue to cause division in the community. You will continue to lie, manipulate, threaten, and bully everyone to get your way and financially line your own pockets. You will cost the town and this community millions of dollars in unnecessary and spurious ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Mar 12, 15 12:22 AM
Pleeeze.....the economy will not fail because there are fewer f\pllutants in the air (yes, even your children are in danger from those), far less noise, and the area will be much more appealing to visitors. if anything, expect a boon to the econmy---each time there have ben restrictions on quality of life issues, that is what has happened. Look at the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and many others.
No, the impact will be on those who are making huge profits and apart from fixed bvase operators ...more
By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Mar 12, 15 12:56 PM
Please tell me how I can line my own pockets? i could use a little cash since I can no longer rent my home under the flight path.....so do tell.
By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Mar 12, 15 12:57 PM
Will someone please post a link to some (reasonably factual seeming) information on how much money EH and surrounding towns could lose if the town ends up limiting takeoffs/landings?

By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Mar 12, 15 7:39 AM
Are you talking about losses to businesses or losses in tax dollars?
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Mar 12, 15 12:10 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By kevinlocal (47), wainscott on Mar 12, 15 9:40 AM
There were two studies done, one by NYU and he other NYS. I guess links are not allowed in comments because mine was links were removed but google:



"An economic look at the airports direct and indirect fiscal impact to the Town of East Hampton"
By kevinlocal (47), wainscott on Mar 12, 15 10:20 AM
From the study:

State and local taxes : $ 1,339,000
(Direct + Indirect) Employment: 91
Output: $12,605,100

If this is correct, tax revenue seems low.
Is the question then how much of the total output will disappear by limiting air traffic?
Certainly not all of it.
What are some guesses?
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Mar 13, 15 7:42 AM
Would the recreational pilots be on board with heavy aircraft/helicopter restrictions if the financial viability of the airport was guaranteed through a bond or other financial instrument? Most of our community rejects limiting recreational light plane operations.
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Mar 12, 15 12:15 PM
3 members liked this comment
1. The Town is NOT free of federal regulation and grant assurances did NOT expire. The FAA said it won't enforce 4 of them BUT the FAA cannot legally do that and even if it does, the grant assurances REMAIN in place for enforcement by the court.
2. Even if the CONTRACTUAL grant assurances did expire, WHICH THEY DIDN'T, the Town is still subject to STATUTORY restrictions under ANCA which are effectively the same. They require reasonable, non-discriminatory regulations supported by proper studies ...more
By Solusipse (8), Sagaponack on Mar 18, 15 12:06 PM
Yes, but what do you think about the noise caused by all of the helicopter flights?
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Mar 19, 15 7:36 AM
Do you have any solution to offer, or are you suggesting that nothing be done?
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Mar 19, 15 7:40 AM
adlk... - Please read #'s 6 & 7 above. Solusipse offers some posssible solutions.
By bird (829), Southampton on Mar 19, 15 8:01 AM
I appreciate your thorough analysis. Indeed you are well versed in this matter. And I would agree with you, the ultimate solution for the Town of the East Hampton to the relief of everyone up and down Long Island and the East End would be to shudder the place and have the developers go at it. Speed dial Ron Burkle and George Clooney...Have we got a parcel of land for you. Golf course anyone?
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Mar 20, 15 8:42 AM
sort of, i guess my question related to the noise issue - how soulusipse feels about it
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Mar 20, 15 8:08 AM