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Nov 13, 2014 4:48 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampont Town Hires Second Noise Analysis Consultant, Noise Abatement Solutions Ahead

Nov 18, 2014 3:11 PM

The East Hampton Airport Planning Committee’s noise subcommittee has offered a set of preliminary recommendations to the Town Board, offering ways to turn down the volume on the noise issue—including reducing or even eliminating helicopter traffic.

Even though it hasn’t submitted its final recommendations to the board, the noise subcommittee is recommending limiting the number of flights, types of aircraft and hours of operation in an effort to reduce noise complaints. Its first recommendation to help mitigate noise would be to classify aircraft by noise level, and to stringently regulate the noisiest aircraft—or even prohibit them outright.

Helicopters, which the subcommittee said are the aircraft that create the most disturbance for residents on the ground, are the highest priority either to be “eliminated entirely or reduced drastically,” according to the subcommittee’s memorandum dated October 28, obtained by The Press.

When reached last week by phone, Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesman for the Friends of the East Hampton Airport, blasted the recommendations, calling them “just the latest example of the Town Board simply not understanding basic facts of what it is doing and the impacts banning flights will have to the local economy.”

Kathy Cunningham, a member of the subcommittee, said last week that the recommendations are just a range of options the Town Board can consider, a wish list of sorts. “They’re not based in data so much, but based on what we understand other airports are doing in other parts of the country,” she said.

Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said on Friday that everyone’s comments will be considered before the Town Board makes any decision on noise abatement.

“Nobody should jump to any conclusions until the Town Board makes a proposal,” he said. “It’s really premature to conclude that the town has come to any decision when there will be ample opportunity to review it.”

Analysis Continues

With the unlikelihood that the Town Board will renew its grant assurances with the Federal Aviation Administration at the end of this year, what’s on the horizon for the airport is on the minds of all who have a stake in it.

If the town does not accept the federal money, that would clear the way for the Town Board to impose restrictions on traffic to mitigate noise at the airport, which has been a highly contentious issue, not only in East Hampton, but in Southampton and across the North Fork.

To get to the point of making a decision about how best to deal with noise, the Town Board needs to finish its airport noise analysis. Last week, the Town Board hired Harris, Miller, Miller & Hanson of Massachusetts to conduct the second phase of its East Hampton Airport noise analysis.

The noise subcommittee recommended to the Town Board that aircraft utilizing East Hampton Airport should be classified as “least noisy,” “noisy,” and “noisiest.” Each level would be defined by FAA noise ratings: 80 decibels and above for the “noisiest,” which would include most helicopters and jets; 75 to 80 dBA for “noisy,” which generally includes a few helicopters, quieter jets and some piston aircraft; and below 75 dBA for the “least noisy,” which covers most light aircraft and some very quiet jets.

Aircraft that are not quite as loud as helicopters but too noisy to operate without any restriction, the subcommittee said, should be limited to no more than three takeoffs and landings per hour when the airport is open.

Banning commercial operations, or at least restricting the number of commercial businesses operating at the airport to three takeoffs and landings per hour, could decrease disturbance, because those operations would be more spread out over time, according to the subcommittee.

“Aircraft operations peak just at the time when the demand for quiet enjoyment is at its highest,” the memorandum reads. “We note the high levels of complaints Friday evenings, Sunday evenings and Monday mornings, when commuter operations are at their peak.”

Curfews Added?

The subcommittee said the Town Board should consider a nighttime curfew like the one at the heliport in Southampton Village, which doesn’t allow traffic to fly in or out from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Another recommendation would be to set airport operating hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and establish a weekend curfew of 8 to 10 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, when flights would not be allowed in or out of the airport.

According to the subcommittee, the 1989 Airport Master Plan called for a curfew, but it wasn’t implemented because the FAA objected to it. The grant assurances expire after December 31, and if the town does not renew them, it can go forward with a curfew.

Limiting the amount of traffic from noon Friday to noon Monday during the summer season by prohibiting touch-and-gos, which is when a pilot touches down at the airport and uses the same runway to depart, usually during training, should also be considered, the subcommittee said.

Report Is Coming

While the subcommittee didn’t reach a consensus on which path the Town Board should take, it does plan to have a final set of findings and specific recommendations for the board to consider by the end of November, according to the subcommittee’s memorandum.

Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, liaison to the airport, said the Town Board is working to find a solution to the noise that has plagued East Hampton and surrounding communities for years. She said that after completing the second phase of the noise analysis, the town will have enough data on which to base possible restrictions.

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said the study’s objective will be to define the problem and recommend a refined list of alternatives that could address the issue. Harris, Miller, Miller & Hanson will collect and analyze the most recent 12 months of complaint data and will discuss its results at the December 2 Town Board work session.

According to the firm’s analysis proposal, using complaint data will give a “highly informative” basis for researching noise issues.

“Considering patterns within complaint statistics that induce multiple reports for an individual operation, time period or set of circumstances, is a particularly revealing basis for identifying problems of primary concern that are most worthy of addressing,” the proposal states.

The first phase of the noise analysis cost $60,000, and the second phase will cost $40,000. The money to pay for both phases will come out of the airport fund, which is self-funded and does not use taxpayer money.

“It is our intention to adopt whatever lawful measures we can to ensure the peace, quiet, tranquility and health of communities affected by airport noise,” Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said. “We are also committed to following a transparent and inclusive process to get there. We will thoroughly consider all points of view before we take action.”

It’s like a juggling act, Ms. Cunningham said of the subcommittee’s recommendations. The town and the public will have to weigh the costs and benefits of each recommendation before making a move. And if the Town Board forgoes the FAA grant assurances in the new year, it has to be sure the airport can sustain itself financially.

“Our meaningful reductions of noise will not occur unless the airport can remain financially independent,” she said.

Mr. Riegelhaupt, of the Friends of the East Hampton Airport, said the subcommittee ignores the financial implications of limiting traffic at the airport.

“What’s most troubling about this plan is if the curfew and slots systems are put in place, the town will lose an estimated 500 visitors per day, or 1,500 visitors per weekend, or roughly 24,000 for the summer,” he said. “Even a conservative estimate would show a loss of approximately $36 million for the local economy. And, even if you use the town’s numbers, which are laughably low, the town still ends up losing 12,000 people for the summer or $18 million in revenue. Implementing a slot system or eliminating aircraft will have a devastating impact on the local economy.”

Airport Projects Continue

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said the town has repaved a taxiway at the airport and that Baseline King Corporation will soon install new lighting on another taxiway.

Additionally, the Town Board has hired Quantum Spatial to identify any obstacles that could make arrival and departure at the airport dangerous.

Michael Baker Engineering is also in the process of developing a plan and cost estimate of what it would take to design and build deer fencing around the entire property, install a weather station, create dedicated approach and departure procedures for helicopters and develop a comprehensive and prioritized five-year airport capital improvement program.

“With our new consulting engineer … we are now engaged in a deliberate and thoughtful effort to ensure that our airport meets professional standards,” Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said.

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According to Ms. Cunningham, "It’s like a juggling act, she said. The town and the public will have to weigh the costs and benefits of each recommendation before making a move."

Can anyone articulate what value the airport brings to the general public (excluding the one percenters)?
By Arnold Timer (327), Sag Harbor on Nov 13, 14 8:41 PM
1 member liked this comment
The community revenue the airport brings in is well documented and in the millions. And this is not revenue to 1%ers, but locals who benefit from it. But more importantly there is a large community of local pilots who use the airport. We are nowhere near being 1%ers! But we love to fly. It is our passion. It is what gives us joy in life. Why not stop by one day and go for a flight with us. You will see its value is as great as the bike lanes are of value to the cyclists, or the docks are to the ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Nov 14, 14 2:28 PM
It doesn't feel like its a question of which right is greater. If bike lanes or golf courses caused such widespread noise disturbances I'm sure we would be talking about restricting their use on the east end. Its just that airport noise causes a lot of people a lot of frustration. So I think that is why we are talking about restricting it. It also seems like a no-brainer to allow the town to control the flow of aircraft into the east end. The town controls the ability of developers to install ...more
By Slightmadness (19), East hampton on Nov 14, 14 4:46 PM
1 member liked this comment
Time slots limiting the number of offenses per hour plus closing the airport in the evenings will go a long way towards restoring the quiet use and enjoyment of the east end by thousands. Don't forget to extend the curfew to Thursday evening which is the new Friday and Monday morning. As far as the economic push back, if you estimated the cost of acquisition as well as maintenance and ongoing trickle down into the local economies, would be in the hundreds of millions. An alleged 36 million down ...more
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Nov 14, 14 6:28 AM
1 member liked this comment
Time slots are the most ridiculous thing ever conceived of. Clearly no actual pilots were allowed to be a part of or participate in this "sub-committee". First, time slots mean lots of airplanes circling the airport for hours on end waiting for a slot to open. How does a massive increase in circling airplanes and hovering helicopters reduce noice?! Not only does it increase noise, it increases the chance of a midair incident as everyone is forced into waiting in the same airspace above the airport. ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Nov 14, 14 2:14 PM
Easy. The Uber Helicopter customer would rather drive on LIE now than "circle in the air" waiting for the time slot. Oil prices went down but still not free so your circling in the air just to get revenge will cost you as well. The biggest reason pilots take short cuts is to reduce fuel cost.
By JCHeli Senshi (3), on Nov 20, 14 10:44 PM
well the town conceivably could control the number of aircraft by closing the airport. So its not right to say they have ZERO control. (but I get the point.) And closing the airport is a drastic measure. But come on!! if pilots threaten to endlessly circle the skies in response to reasonable measures put in place by the town that address widespread concrete concerns articulated by the population and supported by a noise impact study... what is a reasonable person supposed to think? If time slots ...more
By Slightmadness (19), East hampton on Nov 14, 14 5:06 PM
That's silly - pilots would not threaten to circle overhead out of animosity. Where am I supposed to go when my hanger and my car are at HTO? Say I fly to Block Island for lunch and come back to find all the "slots" have been used and I have to wait for a slot to open. I have no choice but to circle until one does or I run out of fuel and have to declare an emergency and land anyway. That's why slots are a dangerous and ineffective idea. And no, the town still has ZERO control over planes in the ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Nov 15, 14 10:09 AM
Time slots are worth consideration, along with every other possible measure to reduce the bombardment from above. Voluntary recommendations for noise issues were thumbed at by many pilots- certainly helicopter and seaplane operators and jets.
So,whatever it takes to bring peace and quiet back to our area I sincerely hope the town Board just goes for it. This is a resort area, people seek peace and quiet and relaxation, NOT NOISE UNENDING. Our "resort" economy depends on the many who come ...more
By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Nov 15, 14 11:26 AM
So let us understand this: Bernard and Cantwell put together a final budget that sets a target of 24000 takeoffs and landings - up 9% from 2014 and transients up 12%. They then put together a budget based on that to show the airport can pay for itself. Then the Noise Committee they appointed recommends outright prohibition of helicopters and seaplanes; outright prohibition of commercial operations; a slot system; 9-5 weekdays only and closed weekends. So how does this square with the budget. ...more
By fact (25), east hampton on Nov 16, 14 12:33 PM
well the town conceivably could control the number of aircraft by closing the airport. So its not right to say they have ZERO control. (but I get the point.) And closing the airport is a drastic measure. But come on!! if pilots threaten to endlessly circle the skies in response to reasonable measures put in place by the town that address widespread concrete concerns articulated by the population and supported by a noise impact study... what is a reasonable person supposed to think? If time slots ...more
By Slightmadness (19), East hampton on Nov 17, 14 12:07 PM
Get rid of these Uber helicopters and you will enjoy your life and property. We got rid of a helicopter company from our neighborhood that used to fly drunk tourists for a 10 min joyride until 11:00PM 7 days a week. Now we can enjoy our neighborhood.
By JCHeli Senshi (3), on Nov 20, 14 10:48 PM
Something needs to be drastically done! As a North Fork resident it is becoming more & more unbearable. I get helicopter noise in the morning & evenings at my home in Mattituck & during the day at work in Cutchogue.

It really needs to be controlled , The North Fork residents are sick of being the doormat to the Hamptons!
By MichaelNavarra (1), Mattituck, New York on Dec 8, 14 9:16 AM