Panelists and audience members had plenty to say about airport noise at a forum staged last Thursday by the East Hampton Village Preservation Society.
Dr. Bonnie Schnitta, who specializes in noise management, and Robert DeLuca, who heads the Group for the East End, were two of the panelists, speaking respectively about the harmful effects of noise-disturbed sleep and about the advantages of setting up a committee “structure,” as was done for Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, in which the various stakeholders can communicate about noise concerns.
However, it was the other two panelists, East Hampton Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and Peter M. Wolf, a land planner and investment manager, who seemed to draw a line in the sand, and the room—between those who see airport noise as something of a necessary evil and those who feel noise problems could be solved if only there were political will.
Mr. Wolf took Ms. Quigley to task for saying, in seeking a balance between “how to keep the town alive and at the same time keep the town quiet and peaceful,” that motorcycles, trucks and cars are also disturbers of the peace.
“Equating automobiles and trucks with airplanes is a false analogy,” Mr. Wolf said, adding that “a terribly large percentage” of people are dependent on cars and trucks, while “under 1 percent of our community has any use for the airplanes” except in emergencies.
Bruno Schreck of Springs, who shoots real estate photos from a Cessna 172, said people who pass through the airport bring as baggage increased property values and taxes and jobs that many year-round people rely upon. “It’s quite conceivable that your heart would be filled with joy” at the sound of an overhead engine, he said after explaining that he grew up near Mitchell Field.
“Do you sit there with helicopters flying over your head every three minutes?” asked Barry Holden, an architect who lives under a flight path over Jessup’s Neck in the Noyac area, where, he pointed out, protected wildlife at the Morton Wildlife Refuge are subjected to the same disturbance.
“This is a quiet community,” Dr. Schnitta said. “If you’re going to disturb somebody, then rethink what you’re doing.” Studies have shown that interrupted sleep can interfere with productivity, she said.
Ms. Quigley said the vast majority of flights pass through between 2 p.m. on Friday and 9 p.m. on Sunday in summer months—unfortunately, “in the prime time of when we all want to be outside.”
The town’s population has shifted from about 60 percent year-round homeowners and 40 percent part-timers to the reverse, she said. “Our job is to find that balance.”
Mr. Wolf suggested that airport fees should reflect the size of the problems the vehicles create, but Ms. Quigley said the fees cannot be changed for general use aviation.
Mr. Wolf also suggested curbing the hours for flights as for “any other nuisance,” and ensuring strict enforcement of existing regulations. “I hope all of you call in flights and times,” he said of a hotline used to compile information about noise complaints.
Mr. Holden said he’d called 300 or 400 times before throwing in the towel.
Airport noise may have increased in recent years with an increase in helicopter use, but Ms. Quigley said “it isn’t true that nothing’s been done,” mentioning in particular a study by the five East End towns of helicopter routes.
“Stop collecting data. We know the problem,” said Anne Gerli of East Hampton Village, to applause.