Air traffic noise around East Hampton Airport and helicopter noise, in particular, ranked high among the concerns Wainscott residents posed to candidates for public office on Saturday, with one question looming above all: are choppers a “necessary evil?”
The Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee invited the candidates on both major-party tickets in the East Hampton Town Board and supervisor’s races, as well as a host of additional races, to a meeting that morning at the Wainscott Chapel on Wainscott Main Street. Republicans fielded questions first, from the committee, as well as from members of the public. Then they filed out and the Democrats went next. The Republicans agreed that helicopters were a necessary evil, but the Democrats largely disagreed.
Town Clerk Fred Overton, one of two candidates on the GOP line for Town Board, said he was not in favor of closing the airport and that he was concerned about the Federal Aviation Administration grant assurances that run out at the end of next year. He would like to see the FAA funding continue as a last resort, but would like to explore other funding options.
He said he was not interested in banning jets or choppers, but would like a quieter airport. To cut down on chopper noise, he suggested looking at flight patterns and altitudes and said he would work with the Town Board to institute rules and regulations over flight patterns and perhaps types of aircraft or restricting flights. He also noted that aircraft are being made less noisy.
One committeeman, referencing a press release issued at one point by U.S. Representative Tim Bishop and State Senator Chuck Schumer, which said residents were being “tortured and tormented” by air traffic noise, asked Mr. Overton if he considered choppers a necessary evil.
“Yes, I do,” Mr. Overton replied.
Incumbent Republican Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the board’s current airport liaison, agreed. Pressed by a committeeman asking if he were being tortured, would he prefer to have the torture reduced or stopped.
“I would like you to stop,” Mr. Stanzione said.
When asked about the link between FAA funds and the town’s control over the airport, he declared that overflights are exclusively a federal matter. He cited a recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that the FAA can use noise as a factor in deciding whether it has authority over routes. There is controversy, he said, over whether the town rejecting FAA funds would lead to more control and that it would be decided in court.
Larry Cantwell, the unopposed Democratic candidate for supervisor, said helicopters were not a necessary evil, but that the airport was an asset with infrastructure needs, to the tune of $7 million to $10 million over the next 10 years, making federal funds attractive. He noted that there would be regulations regardless of whether the town takes FAA funds and any restrictions must be reasonable or non-discriminatory.
The growing footprint of noise, however, is “driving people crazy,” he said, and it is the town’s responsibility to take that issue seriously and put in legal restrictions it can to bring about relief.
“Here’s one thing that’s going to change on January 2,” Mr. Cantwell said in response to a question about what he would do differently. “No single board member is going to have the authority that Dominick has of the airport.” He added that it is not a criticism of Mr. Stanzione, but rather of the board for all allowing one board member to make all the airport decisions.
Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, a Democrat running for Town Board, was the only candidate who could not answer about whether helicopters were a necessary evil. An opponent of accepting FAA funds before the 2014 expiration, she said a technical noise analysis must be done.
“To say that complaints have gone down is ridiculous,” she said. “If you hit your head against the wall enough times, you stop. If you’re not getting a response, you stop making the phone calls. Measure the noise, not the phone calls.”
Democrat Job Potter, a former councilman running to regain his seat, agreed with Mr. Cantwell that helicopters were not a necessary evil. A past airport liaison, he said that 15 years ago helicopters were not a problem. Everything should be on the table, he said. The town owns the airport and should exercise maximum control. A noise study is needed, he said, he is reluctant to take FAA money, and restrictions should be put in place.
The Town Board passed a resolution just two days prior moving airport surplus to outside professional lines to cover “over-the-top” expenses that Mr. Stanzione “ran up” with consultants and lawyers that the board majority, he said, was not tracking.