Airport critics stepped up to the podium at last Thursday’s East Hampton Town Board meeting to express their anger that the town’s Airport Master Plan doesn’t cover airport noise sufficiently. They also took exception to the town’s intention to present the plan’s airport layout to the Federal Aviation Administration and continue to accept FAA money to run the airport for the next 20 years.
Accepting FAA money would mean that the town would have to follow FAA rules in running the airport. Critics said the loss of local control over the airport would mean the inability to set curfews and to create a schedule for take-offs and landings to reduce noise levels.
After the comments, the board nonetheless adopted the plan by a 3-0 margin. The three Republican members of the board, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who is the board’s liaison to the airport, were the only members present. Absent were Democrats Councilwoman Julia Prince and Councilman Pete Hammerle, who was on vacation.
The airport master plan was last updated in 1989.
Pat Trunzo, a Wainscott builder and former Town Board member, said he opposed the use of FAA money. He stated in a prepared statement that he read at the meeting, “Once again the Town Board is planning to extend for 20 years FAA control over East Hampton Airport, abandoning the powers that the board has to control noise at its own airport. Once again, this Town Board is planning to do so without ever disclosing to the public the benefits of the alternative of controlling airport access based on noise.”
Patricia Currie of Sag Harbor said adoption of the master plan was irresponsible.
“The noise goes on day and night. Using FAA money means allowing the airport to be used for private use. The airport is supposed to serve local people. What you’re saying is not reasonable. Shame on you.”
The master plan, which calls for a no-growth policy at the airport, calls for repaving and reopening runway 4-22, which has been closed because it is in disrepair. The plan also calls for closing runway 16-34 and turning it into a taxiway. The main runway, 10-28, would remain unchanged.
The plan also calls for installing a seasonal air traffic control “tower” that would likely be housed in a portable building and limited development that would allow commercial enterprises to buy and use some of the land around the airport.
Airport Manager Jim Brundige has maintained that the master plan isn’t supposed to be a noise elimination plan but more of a facilities document. “We deal with noise on a daily basis,” he said in a recent interview.
At Thursday’s meeting, Frank Dalene, a long-time critic of the airport and its noise, described his family as “tormented and tortured” by the noise of helicopters. His house is near the airport and he claims to have 300 videos of helicopters swooping down over his house.
In a separate interview, Mr. Dalene took issue with Mr. Stanzione, saying, he “told me he absolutely is going to take FAA money for airport improvements. That means 17 to 18 years of East Hampton taxpayer sacrifice down the tubes. It means 20 more years of federal government regulations and mandates and no enforcement. What a stupid idea it is to take FAA money. How can noise not be part of the plan? Isn’t that the only thing the folks are complaining about?”
One group is not complaining. Local pilots have generally called for the adoption of the airport master plan. Tom Lavinio, president of the East Hampton Pilots Association, has said the plan is solid.
Springs pilot Harold Levy, who lives on Gerard Drive, said the master plan will reduce noise, not make it worse. One reason for that is the call for a seasonal control tower, he said.
“This master plan is for the good of the community and for the good of the airport. It’s not a plan for expansion and it will improve the safety of the airport. Not that the airport isn’t safe now, but there’s always room for improvement,” he said. “And hopefully the tower will improve the noise.”
Helicopter noise is the biggest complaint of critics of the plan, however.
The FAA has studied the problem of helicopter noise with state and local officials on Long Island and come up with a proposal to require helicopters to steer clear of Long Island’s North Shore.
The FAA’s proposal to require helicopter operators to use the N.Y. North Shore Long Island route (NYNSR) generated nearly 1,000 comments. Because the agency has to review and address each comment before issuing a final rule, the FAA will not be able to issue a final rule before the end of this summer, according to Arlene Salac, a spokeswoman for the FAA.
U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, a Democrat from Southampton, said, “I’d like to see this FAA rule route the helicopters out over water the longest possible time,” he said. “I’d like to route them around Orient Point and keep them over Peconic Bay. And we want helicopters to maintain an altitude of 2,500 to 3,000 feet for the longest possible time. I also want there to be a southern route that approaches East Hampton and Westhampton.”