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Nov 1, 2011 3:14 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Quiet Skies Coalition Keeps Airport Debate Alive

Nov 1, 2011 3:44 PM

Life-sized helicopters soared across the giant screen at LTV Studios. Members of the audience winced. The film’s volume was set to just 10-percent below the decibel level of an actual flight over Frank Dalene’s Wainscott home.

Members of the Quiet Skies Coalition gathered at the studio, within earshot of East Hampton Airport, on October 26, to present their case that East Hampton Town should stop taking Federal Aviation Administration grants for capital improvements at the airport in order to gain greater local control over flights and cut back on noise. Mr. Dalene, the vice chairman of the coalition, has been recording helicopters passing over his house for three years.

The forum was the group’s response to opponents, led by Councilman Dominick Stanzione and the East Hampton Airport Alliance, who argue that even if the town rejects federal funds it will not be able to simply take control of its skies. They favor other methods of mitigating noise such as installing a control tower and charting a South Shore route for helicopters. On October 11, during a presentation set up by Mr. Stanzione, the Town Board’s aviation attorney, Peter J. Kirsch, said rejecting grants would have little impact on the town’s power to regulate air traffic and trying to impose restrictions would be a costly and risky legal route.

But at the forum last Wednesday, Sheila Jones, an aviation attorney who represented the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion in its 2003 lawsuit against the FAA, said swearing off federal funds would free the town from grant obligations that restrict it from setting curfews and barring certain types of aircraft—a position anti-noise activists argued for years even before they formed the Quiet Skies Coalition in August. The group already has 230 members on the South Fork and is starting a North Fork chapter, according to Mr. Dalene.

Sitting at a table with a sign that read “Get the FAA out of East Hampton Airport!” Ms. Jones told the approximately 35 attendees that a legal rule called the “proprietor’s exemption” allows municipalities to restrict traffic at their airports for the sake of public health or safety, breaking the FAA’s otherwise absolute control over the skies. She said New York City, for example, restricted hours and set noise limits at its heliport, and the rules held up in federal court.

Even if the town were free from grant obligations, the FAA and others could still challenge new airport restrictions in court, Ms. Jones said, although the process would be “radically different” than if the town was still under the grant restrictions. In that case, the FAA would be directly involved in the decision-making process and could claim breach of contract if the town defied the agency.

Because the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion and Ms. Jones reached a settlement with the FAA in 2005, the FAA agreed to not enforce four key grant assurances after 2014, according to Ms. Jones. The result, she said, is that East Hampton Town will be able to restrict aircraft traffic that year. Mr. Kirsch, though, has said the settlement will not stop the FAA and others from suing the town if it were to restrict access to its airport.

Reached by phone last week, Mr. Kirsch agreed with some the facts Ms. Jones presented, although he said she was playing down the legal risks of trying to restrict air traffic. He said the FAA, pilots and other parties were likely to sue the town if it tried to set curfews or ban certain vehicles—whether the town still has grant obligations or not—and the legal battle could cost the town millions of dollars and lost years.

“They have a tendency to consistently understate the risks associated with the policy they’ve asked us to pursue,” Mr. Stanzione said last week. He added that Mr. Kirsch was hired to provide unbiased legal advice to the Town Board, while Ms. Jones is advocating a particular position on behalf of clients she represented.

“If I was in litigation I would aggressively pursue the position that Sheila Jones argued, because that would be my job as an advocate,” Mr. Kirsch said. “And to be perfectly frank, I would hope she’s right.”

Mr. Kirsch disagreed, though, with Ms. Jones’ statement that the most severe penalty the FAA could impose if it won in court would be to deny the town grants and end its authority to impose certain charges. Mr. Kirsch said a judge could impose a permanent injunction preventing the town from putting certain rules in place at its airport, which he said has been the result of past cases.

Ms. Jones said East Hampton Airport could also ban the loudest class of aircraft—known as Stage 2 aircraft—which includes helicopters, by following steps outlined in the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990. It can restrict quieter aircraft, known as Stage 3 aircraft, by following the same steps and getting additional FAA approval.

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As a lifetime resident I can definitely say the traffic and noise has become obnoxious. I find it odd that no one has discussed actually closing the airport or at least imposing severe restrictions on the type of air craft and landing time restrictions. Handing this over to the FAA sounds like a bad idea.
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Nov 1, 11 11:42 PM
The airport doesnt need to be closed but the helicopters need to be regulated. They should all fly over the Atlantic route, however they continue to fly over North Sea and Noyack disturbing the residences. In particular a loud black or dark colored helo always comes in loud and fast. The FAA should mandate approach and departue routes for helo's and impose fines for violations. It will be interesting to see what happens with the summer tower. I wonder if the uncontrollable helo's can be controlled...
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Nov 2, 11 6:42 AM
Im telling you I sit on Main beach with my family (weekends) in the summer and the parade of corporate jets flying overhead is ridiculous. Ever since we were lied to and told about so called improvements (actually extending run ways) to the airport the traffic has gotten far worse. I favor drastically scaling it back and placing severe rstrictions on the type and size of air craft that can be used or closing it altogether. Its only going tp get worse unless something drastic is done
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Nov 2, 11 9:26 AM
A seasonal control trailer will help with some safety aspects at the airport and in for that reason will be welcomed. However, it will also serve to spread the noise around, likely much of it over SH Town resients as usual. Other EH residents who have not yet had the horror and barrage above them will soon learn how bad it can be. Evenin those formerly proted areas like the south shore and Georgica. But, the tower may be controlled by the FAA, but it will be run by EHA. In other words they can ...more
By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Nov 2, 11 8:12 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By SagHarborBob (91), Sag Harbor on Nov 2, 11 9:44 AM
“If I was in litigation I would aggressively pursue the position that Sheila Jones argued, because that would be my job as an advocate,” Mr. Kirsch said. “And to be perfectly frank, I would hope she’s right.”

Nice endorsement of Ms. Jones' legal positions, and by her adversary no less.

By danrudan (40), Southampton on Nov 2, 11 12:17 PM
We attended this presentation by Quiet Skies because we thought there would be free food but left convinced that if we are going to have any chance to stop the horrendous amout of noise caused by rich folks and commercial airline operators flying directly over our double-wide at all hours of the day and night we will have to reject FAA funding and gain local control of our airport. This was an honest, thoughtful and spot-on presentation thaty will have bought and paid for politicos like Wilkinson ...more
By we could run this town! (129), wonderful Wainscott on Nov 2, 11 1:51 PM
That is "back-pedalling and SPINNING." I need to stay away from the still on mornings the paper come out. Sorry people.
By we could run this town! (129), wonderful Wainscott on Nov 2, 11 1:53 PM
I've had many helicopters fly over my house at altitudes comparable to those in the video. They're obnoxious but no way do they make as much noise as the LTV speakers produced last Wednesday night.
It's just another example of the hyperbole and mis-statements that accompany almost every Quiet Skies communication. The principals are doing a disservice to those who are genuinely disturbed by airport noise and want real solutions not pie-in-the-sky..
By PAW47 (10), East Hampton on Nov 2, 11 5:58 PM
Would you accept an invitation to sit on the balcony of that home or a few others?? It can be easily arranged, you need to know the truth, and experience what many live with all summer long. This is a genuine offer. The sound level in the theatre was reduced by 10 DB FROM THE RECORDED REALITY---because 100DB would hve been too uncomfortable for the audience...That is the reality.

By Trish (91), Sag Harbor on Nov 2, 11 7:30 PM
When i used to live in noyac we used to hear planes flying so low, they sounded like they were coming right at you. I was once woken up early in the morning, my eyes shot wide open suddenly to what I believed to be the sound of a plane making a crash landing in my neighborhood. I was a teenager and in a punk rock band, so I was perfectly accustomed to loud noise. That's how low they fly.
By Brian Bailey (36), Southampton on Nov 3, 11 4:28 PM