At its meeting on Thursday night, the East Hampton Town Board made a commitment to reducing airport noise before the 2015 season.
The board unanimously adopted a resolution stating it “intends to adopt whatever lawful measures to ensure the peace, quiet, tranquility, and health of communities affected by airport noise,” something many residents across the South and North forks have been urging the town to do for years.
Solutions the town could adopt might include “restrictions on helicopters and/or other aviation operations at the airport,” according to the resolution—an option possible only if the board decides not to renew Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants at the end of this year.
As of now, the airport is grant-obligated, meaning it accepts funding from the FAA and uses that money for some of its operations. Due to the fact that it receives federal funding, the FAA can impose certain restrictions on the airport.
According to Peter Kirsch, the Town Board’s attorney for airport issues, four FAA grant assurances will expire at the end of this year, two of which deal with access and discrimination of certain aircraft and hours of operation at the airport. For this reason, the town cannot impose restrictions, Mr. Kirsch said.
One of the four assurances requires the town to make the airport “available as an airport for public use on reasonable terms, and without unjust discrimination, to all types, kinds, and classes of aeronautical uses,” according to the FAA’s website.
The second assurance requires the town to establish “such equal and not unjustly discriminatory conditions to be met by all users of the airport as may be necessary for the safe and efficient operation of the airport,” thus further barring it from imposing any type of restrictions to mitigate noise.
Without these assurances in place, the airport could impose its own restrictions and thus mitigate some of the noise coming into the airport at odd hours, as the FAA grants require the airport to stay open 24/7.
The designation of Stage 3 helicopters is another important factor in the town’s decision to accept FAA funding again next year.
The FAA created a Stage 3 helicopter classification in March. This new classification is based on the amount of noise emitted by the aircraft. Stage 3 helicopters typically encompass newer helicopters, which are quieter, and their operations can be regulated only by the FAA for grant-obligated airports. The rule took effect on May 5.
Currently, the airport can impose regulations on Stage 1 and Stage 2 helicopters, which are typically noisier, without FAA approval, according to Mr. Kirsch. However, the town still must prove its restrictions on Stage 1 and 2 helicopters are not discriminatory.
Along with the new classification of Stage 3 helicopters, the FAA also imposed a rule where owners of Stage 1 and Stage 2 helicopters could upgrade the mechanics to fit the noise criteria of Stage 3. The ability to upgrade would then subject these helicopters to FAA approval.
In theory, the town could ask the FAA to allow for restrictions at the airport while it is still grant-obligated. However, it is unlikely that the FAA would agree to such a request, as the organization’s mission is to encourage flying, according to Mr. Kirsch.
Prior to making a decision on how to mitigate noise, the board said it will consider “the most serious disturbances to the local population” and their causes, and look at “reasonable and practical” solutions … after reviewing a noise analysis. In July, the town hired Young Environmental Sciences Inc. to conduct a study to help identify which areas are most severely affected, and at what times.
The board will also hold public meetings, workshops or hearings, according to its resolution, and complete any “required environmental analysis” before going forward with a plan.