Airport Study Called Misleading

Bill Wilkinson joins opponents as town’s noise analysis alarms industry

Aviation interests opposed to restricting the use of East Hampton Airport continued this week to voice absolute disagreement with the analysis of aircraft noise in a $60,000 draft study by consultants, and they have referred it to the Suffolk County comptroller for an investigation into whether the study was a misuse of taxpayer funds.

The East Hampton Town Board has vowed to pursue responses to ongoing complaints about noise, which drew hundreds of people from across the East End to a meeting in August.

In a press release from the public relations firm S.K.D. Knickerbocker, the Friends of the East Hampton Airport and its spokesman, Jeff Smith, who is also the chairman of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, said the noise study was based on flawed data and is “wildly misleading and inaccurate.”

Joining the opposition was former East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, now a paid consultant for the Friends of the East Hampton Airport coalition. In an open letter to the people of East Hampton, Mr. Wilkinson said he was not paid to write the letter and was speaking as a former supervisor rather than in his new capacity.

The group charged that the study was “created purely for public relations reasons to help the board in its desire to impose arbitrary and unreasonable restrictions on [the] airport.”

In his letter Mr. Wilkinson said the “presentations regarding the use and safety of the airport have clearly demonstrated a stunning lack of accuracy and abundance of politics.” Airport limits, he said, will “affect all of our economies and our ability to respond in an emergency.”

The former supervisor, who said in the letter that he has “no further political aspirations,” also said he had been hesitant to comment about town government but chose to weigh in on the future of the airport “this one time, for fear that certain town assets are at great risk and absent decision-makers with a strong financial résumé and vision, the taxpayers will eventually bear an unhealthy burden of current shortsightedness.”

During his administration Mr. Wilkinson opposed rejecting new Federal Aviation Administration grants in order to gain more local control over the airport. The East Hampton Town Board now believes rejecting such grants could enable flight restrictions to limit noise if the town can prove the extent of the problem.

“I find it incredulous that we would burden our taxpayers by bonding for airport maintenance and improvements, when we already pay a surcharge every time we board a commercial airline for the very dollars that some are rejecting now  — F.A.A. grants. Adequate bonding will require tax revenue for payment and a significant increase in the property taxes we pay as East Hampton residents. There is no need for double taxation,” Mr. Wilkinson said.

An economic analysis of the airport bythe town’s budget and finance advisory committee this year concluded that the airport could be self-sustaining — a determination that the aviation industry coalition has also called into question.

But in the press release, Mr. Smith charged that “some members of the town board have an agenda to kill this airport,” something the board has denied.

The aviation group amped up its public relations campaign after the town board adopted a resolution in September vowing to make decisions about possible restrictions at the airport before the 2015 summer season.

In its press release, the Friends of the East Hampton Airport said aviation experts whom it had consulted found the town’s noise study, conducted by Young Environmental Sciences and the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, “misused data and used incorrect routes” to determine aviators’ compliance with voluntary, requested routes designed for noise reduction.

In an email, Loren Riegelhaupt, the public relations representative, said the experts included former “airport manager Jim Brundage [sic] and we also consulted with some of the leading sound/aviation experts in the region.”

Pressed to provide names, he cited one, Shelly A. Exalt, a Princeton, N.J., attorney. “There are some others,” Mr. Riegelhaupt said, “who prefer not to be named as they fear, understandably so, that they will be attacked by people who have strong emotions about the issue.”

Close to 400 residents from Southold, Riverhead, Shelter Island, Southampton, Sag Harbor, and neighboring villages and hamlets attended a meeting convened by the East Hampton Town Board in late August to collect anecdotal evidence about problematic aircraft noise.

The resolution the town board adopted in September acknowledged that the airport “provides useful transportation facilities which are important to, and are used by residents, visitors, and businesses in both East Hampton and the South Fork of Long Island” and said the town was committed to “operating a safe and properly maintained facility,” asserted that the board had “determined that it is prudent and in the best interest of communities both within and outside the town . . . to take action to reduce the level of community disturbance from noise associated with aviation operations.” Other East End municipalities have adopted resolutions asking the town to adopt a comprehensive aircraft noise limitation policy.