With the summer season ready to kick off soon, North Fork residents could see some sweet relief from helicopter noise that has shattered their bucolic quality of life, as East Hampton voted Thursday for some restrictions — but did not act on legislation that would have completely banned helicopters on summer weekends.
After months of public outcry and many meetings on the East End to address the escalating and controversial issue, the East Hampton town board voted Thursday to adopt legislation that will prohibit use of the airport in East Hampton between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. In addition, use of of the airport by noisy aircraft is prohibited between the hours of 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. Finally, more than two uses of the airport by a noisy aircraft during a calendar week is prohibited.
A much-debated fourth restriction, which would have banned all helicopter traffic on weekends, from Thursday to Monday during the height of the summer season, was ultimately not included in this week’s vote.
“The adopted local laws restricting use of the airport in East Hampton is a giant step forward,” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said yesterday. “The board showed courage and conviction. Above all, they showed a deep commitment to their neighbors and to the communities affected. More work is still to be done, but this is a great sign.”
Change came after a new board in East Hampton proved receptive to the cries of its East End neighbors: On December 31, the town of East Hampton let expire four Federal Aviation Administration grant assurances, taking back the reins in terms of overseeing its airport. For years, East Hampton had its hands tied and could not regulate hours of operation and number of flights after accepting funding from the FAA.
“The expiration of four important FAA grant assurances puts the town in a much better position to locally control the East Hampton Airport,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said at the time.
“We have maintained that East Hampton should take control of its own airport and refusing FAA dollars is the first step in that process,” Russell said.
This week, Cantwell reflected on the vote. “The East Hampton town board took a historic step last night toward gaining local control of East Hampton Airport in the face of ever-increasing helicopter noise,” Cantwell said Friday.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said Friday while he hadn’t yet read the legislation and could not comment on specifics, “This is a critical point for the East End and for the Town of East Hampton, to see if the Federal Aviation Administration challenges East Hampton. If the FAA doesn’t challenge East Hampton, the residents of the East End will have more power to fight helicopter noise. This is a critical test for the FAA, to see whether they land on the side of helicopter pilots or on the side of residents.”
Meanwhile, Southold Town Councilman Bob Ghosio, who serves as the town board liaison to the helicopter noise steering committee, was left trepidatious. “While I applaud the East Hampton town board for tackling such a volatile issue, I worry that many residents of Southold Town may still experience an inordinate amount of disruption to their peace and quiet due to commuter helicopters flying overhead, especially on the weekends,” he said.
As for the fourth prong of the legislation — the section that would have banned helicopters altogether during summer weekends — Ghosio said East Hampton “reacted to their neighboring towns, who were concerned that their airports would pick up the overflow traffic, and I understand that.”
He added, “I do believe we will see some relief from the daily barrage of noisy flights during the summer, however, I still maintain that the best way to help alleviate the problem experienced in Southold is to simply require that all north shore flights to East Hampton airport remain over Long Island Sound far enough offshore that their din is not heard by the residents. Once they are past Orient, then they can cross over to East Hampton. A new offshore flight path requirement, along with the new restrictions put in place by East Hampton, would certainly go a long way to solving the problem. I look forward to seeing how the new restrictions affect the existing problem, and the Southold Helicopter Steering Committee will be keeping track of the progress made this summer.”
Last year, although the federal rule requiring Hamptons-bound helicopters to fly over the L.I. Sound along the north shore was extended for two years by the FAA in June, the FAA did not adopt a proposal endorsed by New York State Senator Charles Schumer and former Congressman Tim Bishop to require helicopters to stay off-shore and fly around Orient Point and Shelter Island to the South Fork. Walter first argued for that route in 2010
, but got no response.
At East Hampton’s board meeting this week, David Gruber, resident of East Hampton and member of the airport committee, congratulated this board for taking the steps that they have to try to cure the noise issue from the airport. He said that the committee decided that they could not ban totally the helicopters because it would effect surrounding neighborhoods and townships.
Dr. Vincent Covello told the board he and his wife flew in this week just to address them. They are now thinking about moving out of East Hampton, he said; some communities in Sag Harbor are weighing a civil rights case against the town, he added.
“Please ban the helicopters,” he said.
Others questioned the cost of the potential litigation to taxpayers.