U.S. Representative Tim Bishop is planning a meeting with supervisors from all five East End towns—Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island, Southold and Riverhead—and senior officials from the Federal Aviation Administration on the long-standing issue of helicopter noise. It is set to take place within the next 10 days.
In the meantime, Mr. Bishop and other local officials, including State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and a representative from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer’s office, have been listening to the complaints of South Fork and North Fork residents this week regarding noise from helicopters flying in and out of East Hampton Airport—and it’s nothing they all haven’t heard before.
At a Noyac Civic Council meeting Tuesday night, which attracted a full house at the Bridgehampton Senior Center, residents took the floor one by one to express their frustrations with the FAA’s lack of enforcement when helicopter pilots fail to adhere to the mandated North Shore flight route. The flight route requires all air vessels to fly at least one mile north of the North Shore, over water, and around Orient Point before coming into or out of the East Hampton Airport.
Instead of following that path, however, helicopters and other aircraft fly as low as 200 feet above the ground and swoop over their homes, shaking windows, churning up wind gusts and creating noise heard at any hour of the day, according to residents of Noyac, Sag Harbor, North Haven, Southampton Village and Mattituck.
At Tuesday’s meeting, residents pressed officials for all kinds of resolutions. They even went as far as to suggest that the East Hampton Airport “get rid of the FAA” because it is like “living next to a MASH unit in Vietnam” for many. Most called for alterations to the North Shore route, but some demanded far more.
“Shifting helicopter routes does not solve the problem of noise and [air] pollution. There is no such thing as an all-water route to a land-locked airport,” said Wainscott resident Barry Raebeck, who is a co-founder of the Quiet Skies Coalition. “The way to solve the problem … is to eliminate commercial operations at East Hampton Airport,” he said.
On December 31, grant assurances from the FAA to the airport will expire, giving the East Hampton Town Board the opportunity to restrict flight paths as soon as January 1. Because of that, Mr. Thiele said that residents and local officials need to do their best to lobby East Hampton Town and come up with different ideas that will offer some relief to those burdened by noise, whether in the form of curfews or flight slots for helicopters. The assemblyman added that all parties involved should tread carefully, however, as a lawsuit on the part of the FAA is a serious possibility if the town should alter or eliminate flight routes. The town won a suit last summer after a helicopter trade group attempted to overturn the court ruling that mandated the North Shore route.
In the past, officials said that East Hampton Town Board members, specifically Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who used to serve as the municipality’s liaison to the airport, have been difficult to sway when it came to challenging the FAA. “I’m much more confident today about doing that with East Hampton than I was, say, nine months ago,” Mr. Thiele said.
Bob Malafronte, chairman of the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee and a member of East Hampton Town’s helicopter noise abatement committee, urged residents to attend a Town Board meeting on August 21 at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall on Pantigo Road to make the issue of helicopter noise heard by officials.
Unlike Southampton Town, which was represented by Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and three other board members at the Noyac Civil Council meeting on Tuesday night, East Hampton Town did not have an official at the meeting. Elena Loreto, president of the Civic Council, said she did invite Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, who serves as the current East Hampton Town liaison to the airport, but that Ms. Burke-Gonzalez had a prior engagement and could not attend.
Ms. Throne-Holst said that during a special meeting on Thursday, August 14, Southampton Town will approve a memorializing resolution to support East Hampton in rejecting any more funding from the FAA. The supervisor went on to address the few FAA officials present at Tuesday night’s meeting, asking that they begin to cooperate with the needs of residents without immediately launching into lawsuits.
“An agency like yours … has to begin to understand what the reality is,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “We feel powerless here. We should not have to worry about being sued.”
Most FAA officials had little to say at the meeting, even when asked questions, but Mark Guiod, manager of the FAA’s New York Terminal Radar Approach Control, assured residents and local officials that their pleas were not falling on deaf ears. He said that the FAA has not been cracking down on the pilots that disregard the designated helicopter route mainly because the FAA has no radar set up to alert it when aircraft are not following the flight path.
“We are concerned,” Mr. Guiod said. “A lot of what we’re doing is listening to your complaints. What you’re experiencing shouldn’t happen.”
Moving forward, Mr. Bishop said he aims to get a discussion going with the upcoming five-town meeting that to begin the necessary steps that East End needs to take to get relief for its residents.
Mr. Bishop added that the Noyac Civic Council’s meeting was also a promising start to what could be the beginning of the end of perhaps the most troubling issue out here on the East End.
“I thought this was very good. I think there is hope,” he said. “Our hope is that we can just get people into a room and try to figure it out.”