Shut down the airport? Ban helicopters? Residents react to noise

Teresa McCaskie, of Mattituck, called for the shut down of East Hampton airport if a solution to noise couldn't be reached. (Jennifer Gustavson photo)
Mattituck resident Teresa McCaskie talking with an FAA representative at Monday night’s meeting. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

Frustrated by years of incessant helicopter flights over their homes and summer homes, more than 200 citizens showed up at a forum Monday night in Southold to demand real solutions to what’s become a huge problem in the otherwise quiet hamlets that dot the North Fork: noise pollution. 

From shutting down East Hampton Airport to calling on the Federal Aviation Administration to ban helicopter flights in the region altogether — no option was too extreme for residents, who told local, county, state and federal representatives that the amount of noise created by helicopters was “abuse.”

“Everyone here wants this stopped,” said Margret Skabry of Peconic. “Is that confusing to anyone? I really want you to start representing us. You need to take hold of the dragon — the Federal Aviation Administration.”

With helicopter traffic up 40 percent this year at East Hampton airport, according to a recent Newsday report, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell hosted the public meeting with the intent of uniting the community to put pressure on federal representatives and the FAA over its inadequate response to the thousands of noise complaints its received by East Enders since Memorial Day.

“We wanted to create a town committee, well, I don’t need five to seven people; I need 500 to 700 people,” Mr. Russell said.

Mr. Russell has advocated for an all-water route, which would require helicopters to fly around Orient Point to reach East Hampton.

Currently, helicopters pilots are required to use what is known as the North Shore Route. Instituted in 2012, the mandate was intended to direct flight traffic over Long Island Sound rather than homes along the North Fork and western Suffolk and Nassau Counties.

However, Mr. Russell said loopholes have made the limitations moot for North Fork residents. Pilots can deviate from those requirements for safety reasons, such as weather conditions — or transitioning to or from a destination or point of landing.

“No pilot should have the right fly over Mattituck High School,” said Teresa McCaskie, of Mattituck, who has been advocating against helicopter noise for years. “No student, teacher or faculty member should be at risk because of some pilot’s quote-unquote choice to take the shortest route to get to and from East Hampton Airport. It should be changed to all pilots must fly around Orient Point.

“If none of these things can be put in place then I push that the airport should be shut down completely.”

The crowd’s anger intensified as regional FAA representatives who had showed to the event fielded public questions by responding “I don’t remember,” “Don’t quote me on that,” and “I don’t think any one can answer that.”

“What are you doing here?” one audience member yelled out.

“Is anyone there even listening to us?” said another.

Speakers at the event included Adam Santiago of Congressman Tim Bishop’s office; Kyle Strober of Senator Charles Schumer’s Long Island office, and Debbie Tinnirello, of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Long Island office.

The elected leaders’ representatives each spoke to the crowd for a view minutes, promising their concerns are being addressed.

Local pilot Joseph Fischetti was also invited as  a speaker. County and state officials were also there.

The East Hampton Town board was not spared from the criticism either, though they weren’t present.

“We are being exploited [by East Hampton Town]” said Georgette Keller, of Jamesport. ” We have to go to those East Hampton town meetings”

“The goal here is to unite and get after East Hampton and get after the FAA,” said Bob Malafronte, chairman of the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee, a group that has been combating helicopter noise on the South Fork.

Mr. Russell called upon East Hampton Town Board members to better regulate the town’s airport, which draws 60 to 70 percent of the traffic, he said.

A welcome for Manhattan’s wealthy, the airport is open 24 hours a day serving primarily seasonal residents and visitors coming to and from the Hamptons via helicopter or private jet.

“Southold has become a doormat to East Hampton,” Mr. Russell said. “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 wrote via email:

“I received many emails from East Hampton residents outlining their opposition to the deer cull. 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.”

[email protected]