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Dec 6, 2011 4:25 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Town Unveils Airport Noise Mitigation Plan; Helicopter Restrictions On The Table

Dec 6, 2011 4:42 PM

Peter J. Kirsch, the East Hampton Town Board’s special aviation attorney, outlined 44 actions on Tuesday that the Town Board could take to mitigate noise at East Hampton Airport, including the recommendation that it seek to impose a curfew or other restrictions on helicopters and other noisy aircraft.

Mr. Kirsch, a partner in the law firm Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP, said the plan was developed by Councilman Dominick Stanzione with the help of staff, consultants and attorneys, and seeks to provide a “comprehensive” and cost effective road map for mitigating aircraft noise.

The measures proposed in the plan take into account the fact that the town is under contractual obligations from the Federal Aviation Administration that prevent it from imposing restrictions on air traffic without federal approval.

The plan recommended the town begin a formal federal process, known as “Part 161,” that would potentially allow it to set a nighttime curfew after which helicopters could not land. The process would require environmental studies, and Town Board members acknowledged that it could be costly.

“To me, to go into a 161, which is going to cost some bucks, it’s got to accomplish more than just establishing a helicopter curfew because I’m not sure the nighttime helicopter traffic is what’s majorly objectionable to the general public,” Councilman Pete Hammerle said. “It’s more what’s happening during the day.”

Mr. Kirsch said the process includes collecting data to establish a noise problem. “At that point the Town Board will decide what restriction it wants to pursue,” he said.

Mr. Hammerle, who will leave office at the end of the year, later praised the plan and urged the board to go forward with it, including Part 161, after his tenure is over.

The plan also recommends the town finalize a contract for the operation of a control tower that will be used for the first time at the airport this summer; that it continue seeking FAA approval of regulated airspace around the airport; that it adopt an official town policy on the role of the airport; and that it develop a strategy for putting the helicopter curfew in place.

It also proposes an escalating list of additional steps the Town Board could take to mitigate noise, which range from minor actions like assessing landing fees and seeking voluntary agreements with pilots to extreme measures like seeking to ban loud aircraft or imposing an overall nighttime curfew, either of which could invite a legal battle with the FAA. Mr. Kirsch said the town could start with the least costly and complex measures, evaluate how effective they are, and then move on to costlier and riskier measures as needed.

Mr. Kirsch said the measures in the plan are based on actions other airports across the country have taken.

Mr. Stanzione mandated that the steps not involve any expansion of the airport and that “all reasonable measures be considered,” according to Mr. Kirsch. He added that, in his opinion, it is important for the town to have the FAA’s cooperation while trying to mitigate noise, rather than being at odds with the agency, as it was as few as two years ago. “It’s not just nice to have the FAA like you,” he said. “It’s meaningful.”

Town Board members indicated they would seek to take some steps in the near future and continue honing the plan. At the same work session, the Town Board unanimously agreed to seek a federal grant for the design of a perimeter fence around the airport.

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Hmmm, it would appear that ALREADY the process has started by which the town board feels that it MUST squeeze its planning into the constraints of the FAA's "little boxes" ("Part 161").

Is this local control of the airport?

What will this decision look like ten years from now, if the "Part 161" concerns are already paramount?

As is recognized above, the night-time helicopter use is not really the issue. Why then is this the first focus of the "plan?"

"When you ...more
By PBR (4803), Southampton on Dec 8, 11 8:50 PM