East Hampton begins quiet campaign on helicopters: Suffolk Closeup

At long last an East Hampton Town Board is moving on a situation — commercial helicopters, flying low and loud between Manhattan and East Hampton -— that has plagued residents of the North Fork and Shelter Island. 

A resolution just passed unanimously by the East Hampton Town Board is careful, deliberate and measured, speaking of “considerable local concern regarding disturbance from noise and related impacts from aviation operations at the airport.” It cites health issues and studies that “have shown that aviation noise can be harmful to human health and wildlife and that helicopter noise can cause disturbance at lower decibel levels than fixed-wing aircraft.”

Further, “the problem of noise and disturbance does not just interrupt and disrupt the lives of residents within the immediate vicinity of the airport but also adversely affects residents” in many other communities.

It refers to resolutions adopted by the towns Shelter Island, Southampton, Southold and the villages of North Haven and East Hampton protesting “the effect of excessive aircraft noise from the increased traffic at the airport on their respective town and village residents and requesting the Town Board of the Town of East Hampton ‘adopt a comprehensive aircraft noise limitation policy.’”

“Voluntary measures” have been tried, but these “have not reduced to an acceptable level the overall intensity of community disturbance” and, further, “the number of helicopter operations at the airport has increased by more than 40 percent in the last year.”

It’s anticipated that the helicopter industry will sue the town to try to block actions it takes. Anti-noise activists say helicopter interests have already been lawyering-up to dispute restrictions. Thus regulations and the process through which they’re developed must be legally solid.

The resolution points to how East Hampton has received “multiple presentations from aviation engineers, noise consultants and counsel regarding viable and permissible approaches to address the consequences of disturbance from noise associated with operations at the airport.”

It says the East Hampton Town Board “has no intention of imposing any restriction on aviation operations arbitrarily or without careful study.” The board “has directed its town attorney and outside counsel to ensure that the town follows a deliberate, transparent and thoughtful process in compliance with applicable law.” It says there will be “further study” and “public meetings, workshops and/or hearings at appropriate times to provide ample opportunity for all points of view to be expressed.”

As to a timeline, the board “has determined that it would be advantageous to make a decision about possible restrictions on aviation operations before the beginning of the 2015 season.”

At a special East Hampton Town Board meeting in August overflowing with more than 300 people, Susan McGraw Keber provided the sorry history, “how East Hampton Airport noise has stolen” from people “the peace and serenity of their own homes … It is nothing short of a tragedy, a self-inflicted wound visited on this community by our heedless public officials.”

She spoke of how the “community’s intentions for the airport” have long been clear. “In 1989 an airport master plan was adopted that said the airport should be for recreational flying, that a business jet airport was incompatible with the character of the community, and there should be a curfew. Yet, nine years later, the airport was redesigned for business jets, and the curfew was never adopted.” Twelve years ago “hundreds of citizens worked for two years on a comprehensive plan [that] stated the exact same thing about the airport: that [it] should be for recreational flying, that commercial operations do not belong here, and that a curfew should be established. Yet in the intervening 12 years we have been besieged with commercial helicopter operations, and the curfew was never adopted.”

Certain Federal Aviation Administration controls for the airport come to an end on December 31. The board can then begin to put restrictions on curfews and access of types of aircraft. It’s finally getting ready to do the right thing.