While residents of the Northwest section of East Hampton have had fewer helicopters flying overhead in the weeks since seasonal air traffic controllers at East Hampton Airport began routing more helicopters along an alternate route over Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, Noyac, and North Sea, the residents of those areas are rising up against the increased noise in their neighborhoods.
They have gained the attention of elected officials from both East Hampton and Southampton Towns and Representative Tim Bishop, who together will attempt to broker an equitable solution for all parties at a meeting on Sept. 10 at Southampton Town Hall.
Hosted by Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne Holst and Councilwoman Christine Scalera, it will include East Hampton Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, Councilman Dominick Stanzione, and Jim Brundige, the East Hampton Airport supervisor, along with New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Congressman Bishop. Representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration, the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, and civic groups such as the Quiet Skies Coalition will also attend.
“The effort is to figure out some way to alleviate the disproportionate burden that was placed, in the last month, on the residents of Noyac and over Jessup’s Neck,” Oliver Longwell, Congressman Bishop’s communications director, said Tuesday. “People are very upset.” The issue dominated a portion of a meeting between municipal and F.A.A. officials on Monday that was designed to acquaint attendees with a new, F.A.A.-mandated flight route along Long Island’s north shore, which came about as a response to island-wide noise complaints. The congressman has created a new e-mail address, helicopternoise@ mail.house.gov, to which complainants can write.
“We are definitely back at the drawing board,” Mr. Brundige said this week. “We rolled the map back out, based on the pushback we got from Southampton.”
“I think the watchword is ‘flexibility,’ ” Councilman Stanzione said on Tuesday. He serves as his board’s liaison to the airport, which East Hampton Town owns. However, he said, discussion with federal officials at the meeting on Monday “made clear who owns the sky; who makes the law, especially when it comes to helicopters. And it’s not us.”
A large group attended a meeting in Bridgehampton last Thursday organized by the Noyac Civic Council, the second forum on the issue within several weeks, with officials from both East Hampton and Southampton Towns in attendance, as well as Congressman Bishop.
Barry Holden, an architect, along with a group of his Cedar Point Lane, Noyac, neighbors, have also organized to voice their opposition to the increased traffic and have collected almost 370 signatures on a petition calling for East Hampton Town to act to alleviate it as of early this week, according to Mr. Holden.
He said he has received comments from people living in Riverhead and on Shelter Island and the North Fork who have similar concerns over aircraft noise, and will strive to include those residents in discussions of a solution.
In an interview this week, Mr. Brundige described the process of settling on the primary route to be used by helicopters as a collaboration — a result of discussions among the air traffic controllers, who must abide by F.A.A. requirements regarding air traffic, airport users, including representatives of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, himself, and others.
Town officials can have a voice in the decision-making, he said, though “fundamentally, the F.A.A. has control of the airspace; they’ve always had control of the airspace.” Councilman Stanzione had been a part of some of the discussions, Mr. Brundige said, though not a party to the decision to reinstitute what’s being called the northern route, a path above power transmission lines toward Sag Harbor. That grew primarily out of the air traffic controllers’ federal mandate to keep fixed wing aircraft and helicopters separate, he said.
The route-setting discussions result in a “letter of agreement” to be signed by all involved indicating a mutual consent to use the designated flyways. However, Mr. Brundige said, pilots who wish to vary from the agreed-upon route may seek permission from the control tower, and controllers are expected to allow them to proceed once they have determined the plan is safe.
There is no designated “waypoint,” or particular spot where planes enter the 4.8-mile radius of controlled airspace around the airport. “And that’s a problem,” Mr. Brundige said.
Certainly, he said, town officials could get involved in developing another route in and out of the airport. “That’s their prerogative,” he said. But, he added, along with pilots, “the tower has to be a part of that discussion.” And the sphere of influence extends only to the perimeter of the designated area that the F.A.A. has authorized its air traffic controllers to oversee. The controllers are provided by a firm called Robinson Aviation. They are paid by the town, but beholden to federal requirements.
“We all are working together to try to run the airport as safely as possible,” Mr. Brundige said.
Mr. Brundige explained Tuesday that, contrary to what many laypeople believe, air traffic controllers at small airports do not use radar to track aircraft, but are required by the F.A.A. to visually track them. Radar equipment is not standard at such traffic control towers, but where it is available, according to an F.A.A. traffic controllers’ handbook, controllers may not rely on it, except in certain proscribed circumstances. However, Mr. Brundige said, a system called AirScene, which tracks planes by identifying their transponder numbers, shows East Hampton’s air traffic controllers the locations of planes on a screen. The regional New York Terminal Radar Approach Control, or TRACON, uses radar to track aircraft that use the larger airports.
“I’ve been living here since 2005 and it was quiet back then,” Patricia Currie, a resident of Noyac and a member of the East Hampton-based Quiet Skies Coalition, said recently. “I used to love sitting out in my garden; it was peaceful. Now they [the planes and helicopters] drive me crazy. I can’t sit outside or enjoy the nicest parts of the day anymore. It’s terrible.”
“After the route change, peace and quiet came to Northwest Woods, but at the expense of Jessup’s Neck,” said Bob Wolfram, who lives in Sag Harbor.
“There is always some level of noise. It’s constant. There are planes and helicopters every five minutes and it really is damaging the community. My house value has dropped,” Mr. Wolfram said.
“It’s the airport that has changed, not me,” he said. “We as a community would embrace the airport if it went back to the way it was even 10 years ago, when it was used for local aviation enthusiasts. Now jets and helicopters blaze in at 5 a.m., and 12 at night. It’s turning into Islip [MacArthur Airport.] We can’t sleep, and more importantly, it’s dangerous. There will definitely be crashes. Maybe then it’ll get the attention it deserves.”
The potential for East Hampton Town to gain F.A.A. approval to institute its own airport-use regulations, such as a curfew, has been a central issue in disagreements over airport management for years. The town’s acceptance of F.A.A. grants ties it to F.A.A. control of airport rules.
Airport noise-abatement advocates have been pressing for the town to cease taking money from the federal agency in order to gain more local control, while the town board has indicated recently, by initiating the process of applying for a new F.A.A. grant, that it will not eschew that money. Instead, the board recently voted to start compiling aircraft noise data that could support a bid to the F.A.A. to institute airport-use regulations designed for noise abatement.
A number of Noyac residents were among those protesting against aircraft noise at the airport on Aug. 19 and again on Sunday, when a small plane crashed into the woods off the end of a runway after attempting a takeoff. That incident is reported on separately in today’s Star.
by Matthew Sprung