Zeldin looks to ensure FAA won’t act against East Hampton Town

06/16/2015 6:00 AM |

In 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration pledged not to take negative action against East Hampton Town with regard to the enactment of noise restrictions at its airport.

Now, three years later, Congressman Lee Zeldin has taken steps to assure the agency keeps its word.

A funding bill passed June 9 by the House of Representatives includes an amendment written by Mr. Zeldin (R-Shirley) to ensure that the FAA does not use any new funds to take action against East Hampton Town following its recent efforts to restrict helicopter access.

“This amendment will hold the FAA to its word on this critical local issue, a local issue that should have a local solution that brings all sides to the table to improve quality of life on the East End this high season,” Mr. Zeldin said in remarks before the House transportation, housing and urban development subcommittee.

The bill allocates $55.3 billion in discretionary spending for 2016, $15.9 billion of which will be included in the FAA budget. With Mr. Zeldin’s amendment, the FAA cannot use any of these funds for an “administrative or civil action” against the town.

The FAA wrote to former Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) in 2012, stating that the town could set its own restrictions for East Hampton Airport without federal approval, but Mr. Zeldin said in recent months, they have wavered on that promise.

“Many of my constituents are finding themselves bewildered by actions of the FAA,” he said in his June 9 remarks. “Federal agencies ought to stand by their word and keep their commitments to members of Congress and the citizens we represent.”

Helicopter-noise regulations continue to be a hot-button issue on the East End. In April, the East Hampton Town Board passed a bill curtailing aircraft usage at the East Hampton Airport after years of complaints and arguments from both sides of the Peconic.

That legislation put in place the following rules:

• A mandatory closure at the airport every night from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

• An extended ban on “noisy” aircraft from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m.

• A limitation on noisy aircraft to one trip, including a single takeoff and landing per craft per week during the peak summer season.

However, the legislation has yet to take effect due to pending litigation. In April, aviation groups filed a federal lawsuit against East Hampton Town claiming that the regulations are unlawful.

In May, the town acquiesced to U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert’s request to defer implementation of the regulations until a decision is reached. Judge Seybert originally planned to decide by June 8, but has since changed the deadline to June 26, according to various news reports.

Opinions remain divided on exactly what the FAA’s involvement should be. While Mr. Zeldin has stressed that local governments must hold the primary decision-making power, he asked the FAA in March to get more involved with reducing helicopter noise on the East End.

A representative for Friends of the East Hampton Airport, an aviation advocacy group and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the town, criticized Mr. Zeldin’s amendment to the budget bill, which has not yet been approved in the Senate.

“The bill is unfortunate and we do not believe it will ever become law,” said Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesperson for the group.

In its lawsuit, Friends of the East Hampton Airport argued that the FAA must oversee all airport restrictions. “The Town has no authority to promulgate airport restrictions that conflict with federal aviation law and policy,” the suit reads.

Teresa McCaskie, chair of the Southold Town helicopter committee, which was formed last year to address helicopter noise complaints on the North Fork, was pleased with Mr. Zeldin’s amendment.

“It’s absolutely fantastic news,” she said. “At this point, the FAA does not need to be involved in any way, shape or form. This is a local airport that needs to be run by the local, duly-elected Town Board and the taxpaying residents.”

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