A Path to More Local Control

    “As a result of complaints . . . I thought we should pursue shutting the airport down from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said at a town board meeting on Tuesday. “We’re running into — no pun intended — some headwinds on that.”
    Because the town is limited by the Federal Aviation Administration as to what restrictions it can place on the use of the airport, the board sought advice from the law firm of Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell, the specialties of which include transportation and aviation law.
    A letter from the firm, which Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said was a privileged attorney-client communication, contained “no surprises,” Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the board’s airport liaison, said.
    The letter, he said, details the procedure the town could follow to appeal to the F.A.A. for the ability to regulate the landings of certain aircraft. The procedure, referred to as a Part 161 application in reference to F.A.A. regulations, requires the submission of detailed studies and documentation for the town to prove its case.
    “That’s the one everyone was pushing us to do for this express purpose, at a tremendous amount of money, with no guaranteed results,” said Councilman Pete Hammerle, during whose long tenure on the board the airport issue has been repeatedly discussed.
    Meanwhile, Mr. Stanzione said, the town will begin to publish the names of companies and individuals whose aircraft flout a voluntary curfew on takeoffs or landings at the airport between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. in an effort to shame them into compliance.
    “We have received, at times, 10 e-mails a day from people seriously affected by aircraft. There was one that referenced four violations in one night, and that’s not minimal,” Ms. Quigley said at the meeting. “So if we have the ability, and I’m reading from this memo that we do, to restrict some helicopters, I’d like to pursue whatever we can.”
    Mr. Stanzione said the town board must weigh the costs of mounting a Part 161 proceeding. While numerous other municipalities have chosen such a route, few have resulted in an F.A.A. decision to grant local authority over, for instance, a mandatory nighttime curfew. However, should the town succeed, it could continue to apply for and receive F.A.A. grants while achieving some autonomy regarding airport operating decisions.
    At present, the town is bound to certain restrictions on airport decision making based on “grant assurances” that are the strings attached to the acceptance of F.A.A. money. Each new grant accepted extends that contract by 20 years.
    The town had already engaged Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell, under the former McGintee administration, to weigh in on how to gain more local control over the airport and received similar advice about the Part 161 procedure, Kathleen Cunningham, who headed the town’s now-defunct airport noise abatement advisory committee, said yesterday.
    She said, however, that the law firm had apparently not taken into account a lawsuit settlement in favor of the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion that calls for the expiration of some of the grant assurances limiting the town’s authority over the airport at the end of 2014.
    The noise abatement advisory committee had pushed for the town to pursue the Part 161 application, and to consider not taking any more F.A.A. money, in an effort to increase local control in any way possible.
    Ms. Cunningham said that the environmental impact statement prepared prior to the recent adoption of an updated airport master plan covered much of the same ground as a Part 161 application would require. “Much of that data has already been collected,” she said.
    “If the political will exists, they will hire an attorney to do what they want,” she said of the board.
    The airport noise abatement advisory committee, which was disbanded by the current administration in favor of a multitown committee formed by Mr. Stanzione, had objected to sections of the environmental impact statement for the master plan dealing with noise.
    Basing the evaluation of the airport’s noise impact on an averaging system of “noise events,” the study had concluded that the noise impact was minimal.
    In the real world, the committee had said, a single noise event — e.g., a helicopter coming in for a landing over a residence — has a considerable effect. The group argued that the town’s evaluation of the effect of aircraft noise on residents should reflect what actually occurs, perhaps leading to different future decisions about the airport. But the town board currently in office approved the impact statement and master plan as prepared.
    Meanwhile, Mr. Stanzione said, as he had asserted during a discussion of the airport last week, the F.A.A. appears to be moving ahead with the enactment of policies that would route more helicopters on a southern path between Manhattan and points east on Long Island. Doing so would not only alleviate traffic that’s headed to East Hampton over North Shore communities, it would also eliminate flights over East Hampton that have as destinations Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach or a heliport in Southampton.
    And, he said, because of advances in global positioning system technology, “there will be more and more controls over the altitude and routes of helicopters.”