Group Wants FAA Out of East Hampton Airport
- By Louis Myrick
On Wednesday night, the Quiet Skies Coalition held a public forum on the East Hampton Airport. The Coalition’s objective was clear: “Get the FAA out of the East Hampton Airport!” a banner on the panel’s table read.
There’s been a longstanding debate on whether the Town of East Hampton should take FAA funding, which could pay as much as 90 percent of the cost of capital improvements at the airport. The coalition says they don’t want the money because the town won’t be able to enforce restrictions, like curfews or outright bans of certain aircraft, on the use of the airport.
The group said that in order to have greater local control over the use and operation of the airport, East Hampton must not accept grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, as is currently being considered, to make improvements and repairs to the airport as proposed and approved by the FAA in the town’s Airport Layout Plan.
Sheila Jones, an aviation attorney and partner at Holland and Hart based in Washington, D.C., who flew in for the panel discussion, said there is remedy for abating airport noise. Jones pointed to the Airport Noise and Capacity Act 1990, which gives the airport proprietor a measure of control, such as the ability to ban certain aircrafts. However as long as the grant assurance is in place, she said, the FAA would closely scrutinize or simply not allow certain other restrictions.
But Peter Kirsch, an aviation attorney the town retained, told the town board earlier this month that assurances that come witih grant money from the FAA is very similar to federal laws that remain in effect regardless of whether the grants are turned down or not.
Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Democratic challenger Zach Cohen recently gave their thoughts on whether or not the town should accept federal funds for the airport. Lines appear to be drawn – including town board candidates – with Republicans in faovr of accepting the money, and Democrats aligned against it.
Since new federal laws were adopted in 1990, just two municipalities have proposed restrictions on airport use; Naples, Fla, which won the right to ban noisy aircraft, including helicopters, and the city of Burbank, Calif., which spent $8 million over 10 years and still failed to get FAA approval. Naples spent $4.5 million.
Barry Raebeck, the coalition’s chairman, claims that at times the East Hampton Airport rivals that of MacArthur Airport in Islip. Rabeck also said that on one August day, there were 98 flights in just a three hour window. Yet, he said, “not one single proposal, not one single restriction” to mitigate the problems that the group has identified, has been implemented.
David Gruber of the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion was also a panelist at the forum and proffered that local control was needed because the FAA’s definition of noise is different than that in town code. He said that the town code’s threshold for noise is passed whenever a noise exceeds 50 to 65 decibels, depnding on the time of day, while the FAA’s threshold is defined as a sound level that exceeds 65 decibels on a weighted daily average. He said that noise must be sustained for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year before the FAA considers it noise.
Jim Matthews, a spokesman for East Hampton Environmental Coalition, said noise not only affects residents, but animals. “The cost of animal and human suffering is significant but not properly rated,” he said.
The noise often raises cortisol levels in animals and when they are startled they flee, disrupting their feeding, mating, and breeding habits. He also claimed that there is evidence that, “people who live near airports have increased blood pressure,” he continued. “Children have trouble with attention and motivation. Fetuses thrash around in the womb.”
Raebeck closed by urging attendees of the forum to vote for candidates who have promised not to take FAA funds in the upcoming election.
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