The East Hampton Town Board will drop a proposed ban on all helicopters on summer weekends at East Hampton Airport, with board members agreeing that a ban could push air traffic to nearby facilities and create new problems there.
But the reversal may not change things all that much, as most helicopters would still be subject to limitations if the remaining three proposals dealing with restrictions on aircraft operations at the airport, some based on aircraft noise levels, are enacted. The board is expected to vote on those resolutions on Thursday, April 16.
During the board’s Tuesday work session, Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, who serves as the airport liaison, read a statement explaining the town’s decision.
“Based on preliminary conversations with our expert on traffic diversion, there is a real risk that an unintended consequence of a ban on helicopters on weekends in the summer could be a shift of the impacts to Montauk, as well as neighboring communities,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “I have long said that I will not push our problem on others, and I will respect that commitment.”
The ban on helicopter traffic had been proposed to address community concerns about noise from operations at the town-owned airport, especially on summer weekends. Much of the backlash of the ban has come from citizens groups like the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, who said that the small airport in Montauk is not equipped to deal with excess traffic that would be caused by a ban on helicopters at the East Hampton Airport.
Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley also expressed concern in recent weeks that the village heliport would not be able to handle an increase in landings during the summer months, calling the overflow a safety issue. Others were wary of spillover at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, saying that it could create a noise issue for residents in the flight paths in that area.
The East Hampton Town Board held a hearing last month on four resolutions designed to alleviate noise generated from the airport by restricting operations, mainly during the summer, when summer visitors fly in and out from Manhattan.
The remaining three proposed restrictions include a mandatory nighttime curfew between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., an extended curfew for noisy aircraft between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m., and a limit of one trip per week during the summer for aircraft classified as “noisy,” which includes most helicopters.
The town’s diversion study and environmental assessment regarding the proposed regulations will be discussed on Tuesday, April 14, at the Town Board’s work session.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said that, according to the town’s noise consultant, Harris, Miller, Miller and Hanson, the one-trip limit, in conjunction with the two curfews, will affect 75 percent of helicopter operations and 73 percent of associated complaints on weekends and holidays during the summer season, as well as 23 percent of all aircraft operations, while addressing 60 percent of complaints on an annual basis.
“That is, in my mind, meaningful relief,” she said. “I want to stress that my intent is for these three laws to be part of a much larger package of actions, which I hope will bring both balance and civil dialogue to the problem of aircraft noise.”
As part of a newly conceived eight-point plan to tackle the issue from all angles, the Town Board would not only enact local laws, it also would appoint an airport management advisory committee, coordinate with federal helicopter rules, partner with the Eastern Region Helicopter Council on volunteer flight paths, work with the FAA on flight tracks and procedures, improve airport technology, study the effectiveness of the new laws, and make sure the airport is maintained and safe.
“We must recognize that our proposed laws are not the end of a process but the beginning of a long-term commitment to achieving—and maintaining—the right balance between airport operations and our community’s quality of life,” Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said.
Charles Ehren, the vice president of the Quiet Skies Coalition, applauded the Town Board for moving forward with its eight-point plan. At the same time, he urged the board to consider reviving the ban on helicopters, or enacting a similar regulation, since some helicopter companies could sidestep the proposed one-trip weekly limit by flying different helicopters in each time.
But Peter Wadsworth, who has been a key player in the noise debate for 12 years and serves on the town’s Budget and Finance Advisory Committee, said the town’s plan is moving in the right direction, especially if it is paired with different forms of revenue streams for the airport. “Under no circumstances is this airport going to go out of business,” he said, seeking to allay the concerns of some in the aviation community.
Loren Riegelhaupt, the spokesman for the Friends of East Hampton Airport, representing several aviation businesses, said the regulations, even without the weekend helicopter ban, still would be a detriment. “Unfortunately, these ‘changes’ don’t change anything at all,” he said. “The proposal would close off the airport to the vast majority of traffic, resulting in a dramatic loss in revenue for the airport and economic activity for our community, and will do nothing to mitigate the obvious impact on neighboring communities across the East End.
“We remain committed to finding real solutions to addressing aircraft noise and welcome the town’s statement that they want to continue to partner with the aviation community,” he added
In September 2014, the Wainscott School Board, in response to the possibility of a new 49-unit affordable housing project on Stephen Hands Path, released a study projecting that the number of students would increase by 43 to 55 within the next 10 years if the housing project were to be built.
The town’s Planning Department, in its own study, said this week that roughly 38 students would be added to the Wainscott School District within the next 10 years if the project were to go forward—including 10 students who would have been added to the district anyway, based on enrollment trends.
Michael DeSario, the chairman of the Windmill Village board that is proposing the housing project, said that they’ve amended their plans to make it so that the project would generate fewer students, such as creating more one-bedroom apartments and designating a certain number of units to veterans, the disabled and the elderly.
The East Hampton Town Board decided to table a proposed amendment to town code that would have allowed the launch of personal watercrafts from ramps around town to access to the bay more easily.
Currently, Jet Skis are not allowed in the harbors, but a few members of the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee asked the town to change the law because it would greatly help them more safely and easily get to the bay while maintaining the required 5-mph speed limit.
Despite support from Ed Michels, the town’s chief harbormaster, the board decided not to move forward with the amendment, saying that not only was it was based on just two people’s requests, but that it caused more misunderstanding than it was worth.
“I haven’t received overwhelming support for this,” said Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc. “There’s nothing to make me decide to change the status quo.”
The Town Board will soon have a public hearing on the return of an alcohol ban at Amagansett’s Indian Wells Beach for this summer season. The ban would end September 30, this year. The law is exactly the same as last year’s, which banned alcohol within 1,000 feet east or west of the road ends during lifeguard hours, which are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., on weekends and holidays until lifeguard protection for town beaches ends.
The Town Board will notice the law for public hearing later this week.