East Hampton residents will have their chance on Thursday night to speak out on the myriad issues facing the East Hampton Airport, and the ongoing problem of helicopter noise is bound to be a major consideration for attendees.
A public hearing on the draft generic environmental impact statement for the airport master plan will be held at the Springs Firehouse at 7 p.m. on September 17.
The plan includes the reopening of runway 4-22 and the closing of runway 16-34, which would be used as a taxiway for runway 4-22. It also calls for a weather observation station, already installed at the airport this spring, to monitor conditions during which pilots can land, and a seasonal control tower, which would allow the town more control over enforcement of its minimum altitude and flight path requirements for helicopters. The plan also calls for a slight relocation of Daniels Hole Road. But what it does not include, according to many community members, is an adequate plan to address airport noise.
The town’s Airport Noise Abatement Committee, which began meeting in 2004, has done its own study of noise. Committee members believe their study contradicts the findings in the DEIS, which were based on a Federal Aviation Administration formula that averages day and night traffic at the airport and which they say contains misleading data.
The committee just released its own five-year report on noise at the airport, which can be found at www.quieterairport.org. The report found what many have already believed to be true—that helicopter noise affected twice as many people as noise from planes and jets, even though helicopters make up only 20 percent of the traffic at the airport.
The short-term outlook of the noise abatement committee study seems favorable for advocates of a quieter airport, but the report’s executive summary cautions that long-term helicopter traffic could be 10 times greater than the 2007 levels by 2029.
The committee found that noise from helicopters actually decreased 16 percent between 2006 and 2008, while helicopter flights increased by 4.8 percent during that time. A decline in helicopter traffic in 2009 led the report to conclude that noise levels could be reduced to 1998 levels. The noise reduction was also aided by revised routes and better compliance with the airport’s voluntary 2,500-foot altitude requirement.
But the committee’s 20-year forecast analysis is less rosy. It estimates that helicopter noise will at least double by 2029 and could reach 10 times the 2007 levels unless the airport limits the number of helicopter flights and is more aggressive in routing the aircraft over water.
The committee’s report adds that the draft environmental impact statement completely ignores “the community impact of helicopter traffic and uses unrealistically low, essentially no growth, forecasts of helicopter traffic.”
Helicopter traffic quadrupled between 1998 and 2007, according to the report, which is based on recent history in growth of traffic at the airport and FAA forecasts, with the FAA forecasts providing the low end of the data.
The report also criticized the town for not taking advantage of the services of the law firm Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell, which has experience designing noise abatement programs. That firm was retained by the town in April, but was not involved in the preparation of the DEIS.