A new draft environmental impact statement for the East Hampton Airport calls for the reopening of runway 4-22 and the closing of runway 16-34, which would be used as a taxiway for runway 4-22.
The DEIS, prepared by Henry Young of the Manhasset firm Young Environmental Sciences, was ruled complete by the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday and now will be scheduled for a public hearing on September 17, before a final environmental impact statement is prepared. The town will then update its draft 2007 Master Plan for the airport following the guidelines contained in the environmental document.
Mr. Young, who presented the DEIS to the Town Board on Tuesday, said that his new proposed runway configuration was “most practical from an aviation perspective and the town’s perspective of the public interest.”
Mr. Young said that in order to operate runway 16-34 in accordance with federal guidelines, the town would have to add a parallel taxiway on its east side, which would eliminate most of the parking area in front of the terminal building, where jets and other aircraft are often parked for the short term. He said that the only way to make the proper use of runway 16-34 work would be to move the terminal.
Pilots have said that 4-22 is essential for small planes to take off into the wind in the spring and summer months, when the prevailing winds blow from the southwest, but 16-34 is a preferred runway in the winter months, when the wind blows primarily from the northwest.
Runway 4-22, which Mr. Young is touting as the town’s best alternative runway, requires extensive repair. It is riddled with cracks and not considered a safe surface to land an airplane on. Town consultants said last year that such a repair could cost about $4 million.
Though the reconfiguration of the runways was the most prominent element of the new plan, most members of the crowd of nearly four dozen residents who packed the Springs Firehouse for the work session seemed concerned that the DEIS did not go far enough to control helicopter noise. The plan calls for a weather observation station, which controls the weather conditions during which pilots can land and was installed at the airport this spring, and a seasonal control tower, which would allow the town more control over enforcement of its minimum altitude and flight path requirements for helicopters. Preliminary plans for the control tower are already in the works.
The board entertained little public comment, asking attendees to reserve their concerns for the public hearing, when their comments will be recorded.
Peter Wadsworth, a long-time airport critic, said during an earlier public comment period on Tuesday that he was disappointed that the plan focused so heavily on airport layout, not on noise abatement.
“All the initiatives that are considered are underway,” he said. “This plan does not address the helicopter noise problem.”
According to the DEIS, noise complaints from the airport increased from 5,950 in 2007 to 8,383 in 2008, despite the fact that traffic at the airport has declined.
“Aviation activity has been plummeting since last summer,” said Mr. Young. “It’s down 30 percent.”
He added that many of the complaints come from the entire north shore of Long Island as helicopters travel from New York City to East Hampton, though the greatest number of complaints come from people living in northeastern areas of Southampton Town, including Noyac, Sag Harbor and North Haven, and from Shelter Island.
He added that if the crosswind runway was changed from 16-34 to 4-22, he expected there would be more noise complaints from Wainscott, instead of farther north, as is currently the case.
He said that the DEIS does not include any plans for mitigating the noise in Wainscott, and that the Integrated Noise Model used to generate population figures for the study may be flawed and may not show the true number of people who live near the airport who are affected by the noise.
“The Integrated Noise Model tends to slightly under-predict incoming helicopter noise,” he said.
Mr. Wadsworth also chastised the board for not looking further into the option of completing an FAA Part 161 study, a highly involved, expensive study that, once completed, would allow the town to impose restrictions on high-decibel airport traffic.
Town planning consultant Lisa Liquori said that the town has not yet actively pursued the study, and is currently drafting a parallel financial plan for the airport. The airport uses federal grant money for its improvements and is required as a condition of that grant money to allow noisy aircraft to use the airport. Those grant assurances are set to expire in 2014, when the town must decide whether to continue taking federal money or to shoulder the burden of improvement costs on its own in order to obtain the freedom to restrict access to its airport.
Airport manager Jim Brundige has said that it would be nearly impossible, from a legal perspective, to ban noisy aircraft, such as helicopters, even if the grant assurances expire.