Ask Village to Back Airport Restrictions

Durell Godfrey

    Noise related to aircraft going to and from East Hampton Airport is an environmental intrusion and should be addressed as such, the chairman of the Village Preservation Society of East Hampton’s airport noise committee told the East Hampton Village board at its regular meeting last Friday.

    “We’ve come up with a modest and, we think, very workable way to address the airport issue, specifically the noise that the airport produces, impacting almost everybody in the village, and of course in the broader regional community,” Peter Wolf told the board. The society’s airport noise committee debated throughout the winter before formally adopting its policy with respect to the airport, Mr. Wolf said.

    “Our policy was made avoiding the trap and the zero sum game of dealing with routes. Changing routes just impacts one group when you lighten the burden on another group. It’s not the answer,” he said, then read the society’s four-point policy, some of which pertained to the town, not the village.

    “We understand that the airport is not under your complete jurisdiction,” Mr. Wolf told the board. “But we also know that you’re a very influential body and so we’re trying to elicit your support.”

    The group wants the town to refuse additional money from the Federal Aviation Administration, he said. “Acceptance of F.A.A. funds will doom any chance for local authority over airport scale and intensity of operations,” he read. The airport, he said, has run at a surplus and can function without federal dollars. Increasing landing fees and initiating parking fees would provide additional income, he said.

    “No flights should be permitted over any East Hampton Village inland water bodies or other sensitive natural environments such as Hook and Georgica Ponds,” he continued. Inland bodies of water, he said, amplify sound, impacting a larger area.

    Airport operations should be limited to the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Mr. Wolf said. “This was very deeply debated in our own group. We understand about the noise policies having to do with gardening, lawnmowers, construction projects, and so forth. This is a completely different type of noise. This does not produce a lot of jobs, this is not noise requested by village residents, and the hours that service workers have to complete their jobs has nothing to do with airport operations.” This schedule, he said, would reduce aircraft noise during most residents’ “peaceful hours.”

    Lastly, limiting the frequency of operations would mitigate intense clusters of flights, which he said are currently as often as two or three minutes apart.

    The airport and the society’s proposals, Mr. Wolf repeated, are outside of the board’s jurisdiction, “and maybe even comfort zone. But what we’re dealing with is the public realm, and that is the quiet enjoyment of air. It’s the same as water rights; it’s the same as land use.” The entire community has a right to enjoy a tranquil environment, he said, and a large majority does not use or benefit from frequent flights into and out of the airport. “We implore you to try to think about a way that you can be helpful and influential,” Mr. Wolf concluded. “Your silence on this issue is, in a sense, an approval of the current status quo. Speaking up is the opposite of that.”

    Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. asked Mr. Wolf if his committee was taking its policy proposals to the East Hampton Town Board. Mr. Wolf said that he came to the village first, given the society’s close alignment and collaborative relationship with the village’s governing body. “But after having presented this to you, we do intend to go to the town as well,” he said.

    Allowing that he might be speaking for himself, the mayor said that he saw no resolution in the short term. “There are remediation abilities that can take place,” he said, “but that has to play out at the town board level. . . . If there’s some sunlight at the end of the tunnel, this board of trustees would like to be a party to that, as it’s applicable to village residents. We hear you loud and clear.”

    “I think you make some valid points, said Richard Lawler, a board member. “It’s worth further discussion by this board.”

    In other news from the meeting, the board adopted the 2013-14 budget it had unveiled at its May 2 work session. The budget, at $19.6 million, represents a spending increase of 3.2 percent. This results in an increase in the tax rate of 2.2 percent, with the spending increase partially offset by a non-tax revenue increase of 6 percent. On a related note, the board amended its budget to increase estimated revenue and appropriations for federal aid received from disaster assistance for Hurricane Sandy. Estimated federal aid is in the amount of $188,283.

    The board also announced a public hearing to be held July 31 at 11 a.m. at the Emergency Services Building regarding a proposed amendment to its code that would provide an appeals process for the denial of mass gathering permits.

    Earlier in the meeting, Hugh King, East Hampton town crier and director of the Home, Sweet Home Museum, had announced that Hook Mill would be open every day starting this weekend — provided a particular item on the meeting’s agenda was approved: the employment of three tour guides for the season, at an hourly rate of $12. The board did so, unanimously.

    “The windmills will turn,” Elbert Edwards, of the board, told Mr. King.

    “Thank you,” Mr. King replied.

    Finally, the mayor noted that summer had officially begun. “Put a smile on your face, and be nice to the person to your left or right,” he said. “It’s going to be testing your abilities at some point, but let’s show all the others what East Hampton Village and our surrounding community is all about.”