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East Hampton contemplates airport closing in move that could impact other towns

Residents plagued for many years by helicopter noise could find relief from a decision in the hands of the East Hampton Town Board. 

The expiration of the contract East Hampton has with its airport management expires on Sept. 20, 2021. By that time, it will be up to the East Hampton Town Board to either extend the contract for use of the town-owned site, allowing the airport to continue to operate, or refuse a renewal, in which case the airport would close.

On Shelter Island, Supervisor Gerry Siller worries that the town might be trading one problem for another if the airport closes. He said Southold bans seaplanes, but Shelter Island has no such legislation and seaplanes could  proliferate if the helicopters lacked an airport at which to land.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell called the idea of the airport closing “music to my ears.”

“Realistically, it is the only viable solution to eliminating, or even reducing, the impacts of helicopter traffic on our residents,” he said. “It is a bold step by the Supervisor which underscores the scope of the problem and the lack of authority municipalities have to regulate activities in our towns’ authority — seized by federal agencies who are nothing more than taxpayer-funded lobbyists for the very industries they are supposed to regulate.”

For years, there has been an effort from residents throughout the East End to change the pattern of flights between Manhattan and East Hampton. But courts have rejected efforts to change the hours of operation or flight paths, Shelter Island Councilman Jim Colligan said.

In 2015, the airport managers fielded 19,100 complaints and there were 15,600 reported flights that year. In 2019, complaints had risen to 47,500 and there were 19,200 flights, he said.

What residents on the North Fork and Shelter Island have experienced is the noise of flights that have changed routes from time to time to cut across different areas of the North Fork. When they flew over Southold or Greenport instead of going by a water route around Orient Point, complaints have come from Riverhead, Mattituck, Southold, Greenport and Shelter Island, depending on which path was used.

Closing the airport might seem a simple answer for some communities. But there are economic concerns East Hampton residents have, given that many of those flying into that airport by helicopters from New York City are well-heeled and contribute a lot of money to causes in that town.

Mr. Colligan said he’s glad it’s not a decision he would have to make, but would like to see the Island and North Fork residents relieved from the noise.