Aviators and other advocates are calling for East Hampton Town to reevaluate an East Hampton Airport noise analysis that they say is incorrect and ineffectual.
The report was presented on October 30 to a large audience seeking answers about how many noise complaints there have been, who or what is to blame, and what will be done about it. Consultants from Young Environmental Sciences and Noise Pollution Clearinghouse reported a surprising number of incidents of aircraft exceeding the town’s noise limits and, equally alarming, low rates of compliance with town rules for pilots when approaching and departing the airport.
Opponents of the report are saying the data were skewed and have asked the Suffolk County comptroller’s office to review the town’s $60,000 expense for the report.
“If you’re going to spend $60,000 of public funds to try and understand what the issues are and to validate them, then the report has to be correct,” said Jeff Smith of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.
The study set out to count the number of times in 2013 any property within 10 miles of the airport was affected by airport noise above the levels set by the town code. Using modeling which took into account each operation's altitude, thrust, speed and other factors, they determined how many times a single flight exceeded the town limits, and how many properties would have been affected. The resulting numbers, in the millions, quantified the theoretical number of times any property experienced excessive noise.
Mr. Smith said that, to add insult to injury, the report said only 15.3 percent of pilots adhere to noise abatement routes, 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 Noise Pollution Clearinghouse’s findings, pilots who use the Georgica route, which takes pilots up and over Georgica Pond, have the highest compliance rate, while pilots who fly over Noyac’s Jessups Neck have the lowest compliance rate.
But Mr. Smith said the consultants relied on outdated flight records from 2013 and did not take into account several noise abatement procedures, like alterations made to the routes a number of times. Additionally, he said that the report “cherry-picked” data by using one set from 2014 and another from 2013.
By using summer 2013 data from AirScene Aircraft Tracking, rather than data from summer 2014, the report does not show the dramatic reduction in noise levels that would have resulted from higher approach and departure altitudes, he added. “By comparing and contrasting different models from different years, they are creating a nonexistent discrepancy,” Mr. Smith said.
He said he worked with former airport manager Jim Brundige, Peter Boody, the assistant airport manager, and Jemille Charlton, the current airport manager, to change arrival and departure routes based on hot spots, or places where people complained the most.
One of the biggest changes was over Jessups Neck—the route that was said to have the lowest compliance rate. Mr. Smith said planes and helicopters used to fly over Jessups Neck and down over Noyac, taking an 80-degree left turn toward the airport, but that turn was eliminated, with aircraft instead flying straight off Peconic Bay over a clay pit and power lines.
Mr. Smith said helicopters, especially, have had a high compliance rate—above 90 percent.
When reached on Monday, Mr. Charlton said it was true that airport officials felt there had been an “upswing” in compliance, especially after working with the Eastern Region Helicopter Council. “We go through noise abatement with Eastern Region Helicopter,” he said. “We convey the message to them about what needs to be done for our community. Coordination is key.”
He added that whether or not the helicopters and other aircraft were in compliance is subjectively interpreted, and that different studies will show different things.
The airport manager said it could have been a different report, depending on where the consultants drew their information. “I feel that the data studied … that’s the outcome of it,” he said of the recent report. “Every project you do, there is a different way of doing it.”
Former East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who is now a paid consultant for the Friends of the East Hampton Airport Coalition, wrote an open letter last week addressing what he sees as “an example of manipulating facts in order to see a reality you wished for, rather than the facts as they are.
“As I said as supervisor, you can get a consultant to say anything you want,” Mr. Wilkinson continued in the letter, which was sent to local news publications. “So true is it for metrics, it all just depends on what you want to see.”
But current Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the consultants had been working on the data for several months, and that in order to get a full 12 months of data, a full season of data, they used information from 2013 because 2014 wasn’t over yet.
“Although we’re analyzing 2013, when all the data is available from 2014, analyzing that is something we should do,” he said. “We’re on schedule here to try to resolve the issues before next summer, and there is lengthy legal process and hearings that have to take place before the Town Board makes decisions.”
Mr. Cantwell said he doesn’t think the county comptroller has any authority over town financing, but that either way, the town followed purchasing requirements when choosing and paying the consultants.
“We’re in the information-gathering stage of a pragmatic process, and we are taking in consideration everyone’s comments, including those being voiced by helicopter interests,” he added.
The town’s reports are available on the town’s website, and comments can be directed to HTOcomments@ehamptonny.gov.