Consultants hired by East Hampton Town say that every flight in and out of East Hampton Airport at some point exceeds the town’s noise ordinances, largely due to pilots’ noncompliance with specified routes and altitude requirements designed to limit the impact on homes below.
The data provided on Thursday, October 30, by Young Environmental Sciences and Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, the town’s consultants for the first phase of its noise analysis, showed that the problem with airport noise can be quantified—and the numbers are staggering. Taking the number of times an average flight violated the town code limits on noise in 2013, multiplying it by the number of takeoffs and landings, and multiplying that by the number of residents who could be affected in a 10-mile radius of the airport results in eight-digit numbers: 16.7 million during daytime hours, and 15.1 million during evening and nighttime, for 31.8 million potential incidents where a property was affected by aircraft noise violations.
On the heels of a heavily attended forum on airport noise in September, the East Hampton Town Board held a special meeting last week with its airport consultants and lawyers to give residents a detailed look at the noise problems stemming from East Hampton Airport.
There were 22,350 flight operations recorded from the beginning of 2014 through September 30. The town has collected 22,700 complaints so far, according to Peter Wadsworth, a member of the Town Budget and Finance Advisory Committee who volunteered to work on the noise analysis.
He said helicopters account for 68 percent of complaints about all the aircraft that fly in and out of the airport, despite helicopters accounting for only 33 percent of flight operations.
Southampton Town residents complain the most about noise, followed, in descending order, by residents of East Hampton, Shelter Island, Southold and Riverhead towns. Mr. Wadsworth noted that helicopters are the most reported annoyances in each town.
Les Blomberg of Noise Pollution Clearinghouse said that people get annoyed and complain about aircraft noise not just based on how loud a plane or helicopter might be but based on how quiet their surroundings typically are, the nature of the noise, whether it is impulsive or a pure tone, and whether there is vibration or rattle. “Every flight has an impact” that at some point exceeds the town’s noise ordinances, he said.
Compliance is voluntary, and some pilots contribute to the noise problem when they do not adhere to specified routes and altitudes, according to Mr. Blomberg. Only 15.3 percent of pilots comply with the noise abatement routes, he estimated, based on a sample of about 4,000 flights from 2013 AirScene Aircraft Tracking, which gathers and archives data related to air traffic.
According to Mr. Blomberg’s findings, pilots who use the Georgica route, which takes pilots high up and over Georgica Pond, have the highest compliance rate, while pilots who fly over Jessup’s Neck have the lowest compliance rate. They are expected to fly at or about 3,000 feet.
Mr. Blomberg displayed a map, illustrating that homeowners who live closer to the airport or situated below takeoff and landing routes are more apt to file complaints. There are approximately 42,400 residential parcels in that area.
Mr. Blomberg said that in 2013, these homes potentially affected by aircraft noise above town code levels totaled 31.8 million in 2013.
Those numbers upset members of the Friends of the East Hampton Airport Coalition, which argues that the report is flawed.
“The report failed to account for the fact that the routes changed at least twice during the summer of 2013, meaning the report counted an aircraft that complied with the new routes as out of compliance,” said spokeswoman Loren Rigelhaupt. “From the onset, the noise consultants who conducted this study had one goal in mind—to cast the airport in as negative a light as possible. The use of outdated and inaccurate flight data helped distort their results to fit that mold.”
But State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who attended the meeting, said voluntary compliance has been “a failure for a long time” and added, “It’s nice to have data to support that. We’ve been dealing with the so-called voluntary compliance issue for years, and what a great job helicopter pilots have been trying to do … to solve the noise problem here.”
Kathleen Cunningham, chair of the Quiet Skies Coalition, said it was “sobering” to learn the number of noise events. “The noise is terrible, rates of compliance with helicopter noise abatement routes are abysmally low, and the single-event noise impacts above accepted community standards are in the millions,” she said in a statement.
Attorney Peter Kirsch, who represents the town, said that now that the data is available, it is up to the East End community to comment on the findings and possible solutions.
“What is important, legally and technically, if the Town Board moves forward with use restriction needs, is to consider what is unique about this community,” Mr. Kirsch said. “Community participation and public comment is really important about understanding what is unique about this community.”
When a series of Federal Aviation Administration grants expire at the end of this year, East Hampton Town would have the ability to take more control of the airport and its operations. Mr. Kirsch said before any laws were made and any controls put into place, the Town Board must define the problem and come up with a specific solution to solve that problem in order to stand on solid legal ground.
Eight different solutions were listed for the public to consider, including taking no action, banning certain types of aircraft, time-based and fee-based restrictions, air traffic flow management, mitigation like sound insulation and home relocation, voluntary curfews or agreements and federal route restrictions.
Ken Lipper, a former deputy mayor of New York City who lives in East Hampton, said he and Peter Wolf collected 522 signatures in support of returning the airport to local control and not taking any more grant assurances from the FAA, in order to control the hours of operation, the types of aircraft permitted at the airport and to put limits on the volume of traffic per hour.
“I don’t think we have to bow to the self-appointed lifestyle elite that take a helicopter out here at the expense of families who have testified they can’t come out of their homes [because of the disturbance] or anyone else who might want to have a cocktail party that have that right given the tax levels of East Hampton,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with people leading a normal life. It’s not Asbury Park.”
The presentations are available on the town’s website, and comments can be directed to HTOcomments@ehamptonny.gov.