Several Southampton Village residents—and even a resident of Sag Harbor—voiced support of a Village Board proposal to restrict the number of landings at the heliport on Meadow Lane each week during summer.
The law would allow each helicopter to land and take off only three times per week from July 1 through September 15. Currently, pilots can land and take off as many times as they like during the summer, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. In the winter months, the 7 p.m. cutoff is moved back to sunset. The new law would not apply to the winter months.
Village officials introduced the law earlier this month in light of pending restrictions that the East Hampton Town Board has approved for East Hampton Airport, which includes limiting helicopters to one takeoff and landing per week in summer. The restrictions have not yet been implemented, however, as a federal judge has yet to rule on an injunction sought by Friends of the East Hampton Airport, a group that represents aviation businesses. The group is challenging the new regulations in court, and town officials have agreed to hold off on the new regulations until the judge can rule on the injunction.
Southampton officials in March had expressed concern about increased use of the village’s heliport if East Hampton’s restrictions were implemented. And their concerns have only grown, as there were 120 landings at the heliport in May alone, up from 83 in May 2014.
“We had a 44-percent increase in the number of landings in the month of May—without any of the changes being made in East Hampton,” Mayor Mark Epley said at Tuesday night’s Village Board meeting. “We want the village to be prepared. We couldn’t handle 10 percent of what East Hampton is doing.”
If Southampton’s restrictions are approved, the village will be alerted by Vector Airport Systems, the company that bills helipad users, if a helicopter exceeds three landings per week. Pilots who do not comply with the law could receive a fine of as much as $1,000 or as much as 15 days of jail time, or both, according to Village Administrator Stephen Funsch.
Residents near and far from the heliport attended to the meeting to speak in favor of the restrictions during a public hearing on the law. One Meadow Lane resident said she would like to see not only the restrictions but also stricter enforcement of safe takeoffs and landings.
Rand Araskog, also of Meadow Lane, said he and his neighbors have been fighting for changes at the heliport since 2005 and would like to see change right away, regardless of whether East Hampton is able to implement its restrictions. Mr. Araskog, whose home overlooks Shinnecock Bay, said he too has noticed that pilots tend to land their helicopters unsafely.
“When it comes to how they land, it’s pathetic,” he said. “Until we get some system … we’re going to have these violations, because helicopter pilots think they’re birds.
“The way it is now, we can’t have a luncheon on a weekend. We can’t have an early evening dinner outside,” Mr. Araskog continued. “We’ve got a problem now. Without those rules, I’ll have no idea what’s going to happen.”
Dr. Maurice Goldman, who lives in a part of Hampton Bays not far from the heliport, agreed that the issue is safety, not just noise. He explained to the board that he has seen helicopters land on the beach near the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Hampton Bays, presumably because pilots could not find the heliport. He suggested that the village go further with its restrictions to allow only the quietest helicopters access to the heliport.
“I have oftentimes seen three helicopters circling continuously over the bay, waiting for the fourth one to take off,” Dr. Goldman said. “When they’re flying over the bay, it’s a sound bowl.
“It’s only going to get worse. And I implore you to take immediate action,” he added.
Sag Harbor resident Bob Malafronte, who has been active in the fight for restrictions at East Hampton Airport, said that because the eastern portion of Southampton Town is “getting destroyed” by the number of helicopters and other aircraft flying in and out, he was glad to see Southampton Village attempt to curb the use of its heliport. “The numbers are going to get astronomical,” he said. “I’m for all restrictions on them. I’m happy to see you do the same thing.”
The village did hear from one party opposed to the new law. In a letter addressed to Mr. Epley from the National Business Aviation Association, or NBAA, which represents companies that own and operate aircraft, COO Steve Brown wrote that when Southampton Village acquired the heliport from the federal government in 1975, the deed outlined a number of obligations the village needed to uphold, and that access restrictions “would be in direct violation of the quitclaim deed.”
Mr. Epley, however, said he read over the deed, which stated that the village may impose restrictions, as long as they are imposed fairly.
The board closed the public hearing Tuesday night but held off on taking any action at the recommendation of Village Attorney Richard DePetris, who said the village should wait for the federal judge’s ruling regarding East Hampton’s restrictions.
Regardless, Village Board members agreed with residents that something does have to be done, no matter how things pan out in East Hampton.
“I think the village has to be prepared. If East Hampton goes through, we will see a significant increase there,” Mr. Epley said.