An airport anti-noise activist is questioning an environmental assessment of East Hampton Airport's air traffic control tower drafted by town officials in order to obtain permanent designation of the structure from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Kathleen Cunningham, the executive director of the Quiet Skies Coalition, said the plan, which will be the subject of a public hearing facilitated by Airport Manager Jim Brundige between 7 and 9 p.m. today, Wednesday, May 1, at the airport on Daniels Hole Road, is "inadequate." She noted that the study doesn't consider the town's standard for evaluating noise, which measures noise on a single event basis, versus the federal day-night average sound level, or "dnl," which she said takes into account sound averaged over the course of a year. The federal standard is a less accurate calculation of the situation because helicopters, the major noise offenders, do not use the airport for half the year, she said. Ms. Cunningham also said that a cost-benefit analysis of the air traffic control tower should be undertaken. According to figures from Mr. Brundige, those costs come in at somewhere around $330,000 a year, mostly attributed to staffing the tower.
"This is a very big annual drain and we've never had anything like this before that costs so much money on an annual basis," said Ms. Cunningham. "It's not inconceivable that this is just a backhanded way to ensure that the only way to maintain the airport is through FAA funding."
Meanwhile, Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione said the criticisms of Ms. Cunningham, who has screened for Town Board with the Democrats, are to be expected.
"I would say that she would say anything would be inadequate," Mr. Stanzione said. "There's nothing that would not be inadequate to her. So she's unsatisfiable and practically irrelevant in her criticisms. This is about safety and security of our flying public."
Mr. Brundige pointed out that the draft environmental assessment is being required by the federal government, not by any local jurisdictions.
"This is not a town action," he said. "It's a federal action. And so federal standards apply."
Mr. Brundige also explained that the cost of staffing the air traffic control tower covers the salaries of seven employees who rotate staffing the tower throughout the week. The tower is staffed for 16 hours a day.
Ms. Cunningham expressed disappointment with what she said has been a "bait and switch" to sell the control tower to the public on the premise of noise abatement. Mr. Stanzione, a liaison to the airport, has countered that the primary purpose of the tower was to regulate safety.
"That was an outrage because we really took it in good faith that yeah, okay, safety first, we get it, but certainly noise," Ms. Cunningham said.
Mr. Brundige maintained that the air traffic control has reduced noise in "subtle ways" that are difficult to explain. For example, in the days prior to a control tower, during bad weather conditions, it wasn't unheard of for pilots to fly below the clouds and "buzz the rooftops of people’s houses."
"It's made a difference in how safe the airport is operating," he said.
The town is seeking permanent approval of the air traffic control tower because it was granted only temporary approval when it first opened the tower last year. That temporary approval was granted on the condition that the town would prepare an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act "for the permanent installation and operation of the seasonal ATCT for future years," according to the town's draft environmental assessment.