Fed up with noise, angry East Enders are calling for action

08/14/2014 1:00 PM |
More than 200 North Fork residents upset by helicopter noise over their homes turned out Monday night for a forum in Southold. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

More than 200 North Fork residents upset by helicopter noise over their homes turned out Monday night for a forum in Southold. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

Residents from three East End communities voted with their feet Monday and Tuesday, when more than 500 people attended three public meetings to stop low-flying aircraft from buzzing over their homes.

In Southold Monday night, 200 people chastised Federal Aviation Administration officials about the barrage of noise this summer — up more than 40 percent over last year, according to several reports. On Tuesday afternoon, the Shelter Island Town Board held a standing-room-only work session to hear audience members complain bitterly about the racket they’ve been forced to endure. 

Later Tuesday evening, at the Noyac Civic Council meeting, the Bridgehampton Community Center swelled with another 200 people, who showed up to hear federal, state and local elected representatives address the problem and subject a panel of FAA officials to another round of pointed questioning.

The focus of all three meetings was the East Hampton Airport, where the lion’s share of traffic to and from New York City occurs, with pilots flying over East End communities. The problem has exploded this summer with the rise of outfits such as Blade, which offer relatively inexpensive fares for the well-to-do heading to and from weekends in the Hamptons.

Shelter Island Supervisor Jim Dougherty, who spoke briefly at the Bridgehampton forum, received a strong round of applause after noting that several years ago the island had banned all helicopter landings and takeoffs, except for emergencies.

“We sacrificed luxury and convenience for our East End lifestyle,” he said.

Beyond the outrage vented at the three public forums, some strategies to end the problem emerged.

TURN UP THE HEAT

“We are being exploited [by East Hampton Town],” Georgette Keller of Jamesport said at Monday night’s forum in Southold. “We have to go to those East Hampton town meetings.”

If pressure is brought to bear on the East Hampton Town Board, which will begin regulating key aspects of its airport policy on Jan. 1, the town can put an end to the excessive incoming and outgoing traffic and even ban certain kinds of aircraft, explained Kathleen Cunningham of Shelter Island. Ms. Cunningham is chairwoman of the Quiet Skies Coalition, an East Hampton advocacy group.

East Hampton lost some control over its airport policy several years ago when the town accepted FAA grants, mostly to upgrade infrastructure. The town signed “grant assurances” with the FAA and, by doing so, agreed to keep the airport open to traffic around the clock throughout the year and to allow any type of aircraft to use the facility.

By abandoning its rights in the agreement, the town opened the door to helicopter and other aircraft companies to maximize their services for clients flying in to East Hampton.

But when the grant assurances expire Dec. 31, it will fall to the current East Hampton Town Board to decide whether to accept or reject more federal funds for airport improvements — and to also debate limits on airport use by aircraft companies and services.

Ms. Cunningham said East Hampton could impose reasonable operating hours, curfews and other limitations on aircraft services, including the size of aircraft using the airport.

It looks as if the makeup of the East Hampton Town Board indicates it could act to form a new, noise-free policy, she said.

“The goal here is to unite and get after East Hampton and get after the FAA,” Bob Malafronte, chairman of the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee, which has been combating helicopter noise on the South Fork, said in Southold. “The East Hampton Town Board has destroyed the East End. This has to stop. There is only one way to do that — ban [helicopters] completely from the area.”

“Southold has become a doormat to East Hampton,” Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said Monday night. “Doormats are meant to be walked on. As for East Hampton, they had no problem telling me how they felt about the deer cull; I say it is time we return the favor.”

When asked later to expand on those remarks, Mr. Russell responded via email.

He wrote: “I received many emails from East Hampton residents outlining their opposition to the deer cull [earlier this year]. Ironically, we received hardly any from our residents. I think that while they should feel free to weigh in on an issue whether they live here or not, we should feel free to do the same.”

Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who attended the Bridgehampton meeting, joined many of the 22 speakers at that meeting urging people to show support for anti-noise legislation at East Hampton’s board meeting next week. 

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