Big Players In New Push to Rein In Airport

Aim to ban seaplanes, helicopters all summer

Two East Hampton residents who gathered more than 500 signatures of support for restrictions at the East Hampton Airport to reduce aircraft noise have drafted a list of recommended airport rules for presentation to the public and the town board, and have hired their own prominent law firm to bolster their case.

Kenneth Lipper, a former New York City deputy mayor, and Peter M. Wolf, a land use expert, author, and investment adviser, have suggested banning helicopters and seaplanes from the airport from May 1 to Oct. 3, at a minimum, and operating the airport only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year round.

Takeoffs and landings, they say, should be restricted to four per hour, and the landing slots auctioned off to raise money for the airport. All aircraft coming into East Hampton should be required to meet an established noise level maximum, the men suggest, and commercial flights, which they believe are prohibited at the airport according to the town’s comprehensive plan, should be eliminated.

In an email letter to be distributed to East Hamptoners in the coming weeks, Mr. Lipper and Mr. Wolf will poll residents on their support for the ideas. An email address, lipperwolf@ gmail.com, has been set up to field inquiries.

Attorneys from Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a high-profile firm with offices in New York City and London, will also review the proposed regulations, which Mr. Lipper and Mr. Wolf believe “are reasonable and meet the established legal standards in New York State,” according to the letter they will distribute.

Mr. Wolf said Monday that the information gathered will be given to the East Hampton Town Board to help provide a firm footing, in terms of both local support and legal standing, for the board to enact airport restrictions.

The town board vowed earlier this fall, by unanimous resolution, to take action before the next summer season and pursue restrictions to reduce the noise from aircraft, particularly helicopters, that has engendered bitter complaints from people in communities across the East End.

Airport restrictions must meet Federal Aviation Administration standards requiring them to be targeted at solving a documented problem, and to be “reasonable, nonarbitrary, and nondiscriminatory.”

 Consultants hired by the town to analyze airport noise data in an effort to meet those standards recently presented the first phase of their conclusions.

Two agreements with the Federal Aviation Administration, or grant assurances, which were enacted when the town accepted federal grants for the airport and constrain the town’s authority to enact certain airport restrictions, expire at the end of this year. The town board has held off on accepting new federal grants and adding new encumbrances.

Mr. Wolf cast the issue of the noise from helicopters and jets used by a select population to commute between East Hampton and New York City, or elsewhere, as one of civil equity, with a majority negatively affected by the actions of a few. “Civic justice is deeply involved here,” he said. “This is a big public issue in East Hampton. It’s all kinds who rally together to oppose this; it’s not some kind of narrow base.”

“Voluntary attempts to regulate the problem have been totally spurned by the pilots,” he said.

“We will demonstrate that it is 100 percent legal and doable, and it is purely an act of political will by the town board,” said Mr. Lipper on Monday of airport use restrictions, which are vehemently opposed by aviation groups.

“My feeling on this is that the town is being bullied, legally,” he said. “I think it’s a very good thing to have a totally neutral law firm get involved, so that the town can hear from someone who’s uninvolved.”

The town has retained Peter Kirsch, a national aviation attorney, for advice on airport matters. But as a public figure who has been named in numerous legal actions, Mr. Lipper said he hopes to help the town board by paying for another expert opinion. “I want to relieve some of the stress.”

“We recognize that there might be considerable pushback,” said Mr. Wolf. The recommended regulations, he said, are “an ideal, to solve the problem — a very good starting point for the conversation.”

Should the town only pursue a “tiny little regulatory gesture,” rather than restrictions that will bring a meaningful reduction in noise, Mr. Wolf said he believes that those who bear the brunt of the aircraft traffic will advocate closing the airport.

The recommendations floated by Mr. Lipper and Mr. Wolf, which have been endorsed by the Village Preservation Society board in East Hampton, mirror those outlined in a memo from a subcommittee on noise, part of the town’s airport planning committee, of which Mr. Wolf is a member. He is also a Village Preservation Society trustee.

In an Oct. 28 letter to Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, who is the board’s airport liaison, the noise committee also says that an “outright prohibition of helicopters and seaplanes and similarly noisy aircraft types should be considered.”

The committee also suggests the board consider closing the airport from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in May through September, and limiting takeoffs and landings to three per hour when the airport is open.

The group also recommends considering year-round 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. operating hours.

While the memo lists noise control measures the committee believes the town board should be considering, the group is expected to issue its specific recommended actions to the board early next month.

At its Nov. 12 meeting, the board hired another airport consulting firm, Harris, Miller, Miller, and Hanson, to continue the noise study in a second phase. They will be paid $40,000 to review the first phase of the study, to collect and analyze airport use data from the past 12 months, to refine a definition of the noise problem the town seeks to address, and to present alternative courses of action. The results will be presented to the board at its Dec. 2 meeting.

In response to the announcement last week of the phase-two noise study, Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesman for the Friends of East Hampton Airport coalition, issued a statement reiterating the group’s criticisms of the phase-one study findings, which documented an extensive noise problem.

“We’re glad the town decided to choose another firm for this phase of the noise study given the sloppiness and inaccuracies in the first report,” he said. “The town should ask for its money back and use the $60,000 it wasted on the first study to fix the critical safety issues and upgrade noise reduction technology at the airport.”

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said in a press release that “the town board is committed to finding a solution to disturbance from airport operations. It is our intention to adopt whatever lawful measures we can to ensure the peace, quiet, tranquility, and health of communities affected by airport noise.”

In addition, she said, “we are committed to addressing all outstanding safety issues and ensuring that our capital plan funds appropriate and necessary airport maintenance.”

Repairs and improvements at the airport are continuing. Engineers are developing estimates for the installation of a deer fence around the airport perimeter, the installation of an automated weather observing system, or AWOS, and readying for the elimination of obstructions around the runways, such as tall trees.

Repaving of runway 4-22, which will be used as a taxiway, was under way, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez reported recently, new taxiway lighting is soon to be installed, and a five-year capital program is being developed.

The town has a separate airport fund that covers the cost of airport operations and maintenance. Its revenue is from airport landing fees, leases of land on airport property, including at the town industrial park, fuel fees, and other airport functions.