The U.S. Supreme Court has asked for further briefing on East Hampton Town’s petition for the country’s highest court to hear their case on whether the town can enact rules at its municipally owned airport.
East Hampton Town announced Wednesday that the Supreme Court has ordered the preparation and filing of additional briefing from the respondents led by commercial aviation interest group Friends of the East Hampton Airport, in the town’s petition to overturn a federal court ruling stripping the town’s right to enact restrictions on noisy aircraft using its airport.
The respondents have until May 19 to submit their brief, after which the town will have two weeks to prepare a reply.
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court is taking a serious look at our petition,” said Councilwoman Kathee Burke Gonzalez, the town board’s liaison to the airport. “The town welcomes the opportunity to be further heard by the filing of a reply brief, on the drastic impacts that the Second Circuit’s decision will have on our airport and airports across the country. The court’s order is a positive step in our march to regain local control of East Hampton Airport.”
The City of New York also filed an amicus brief April 5 in support of East Hampton’s petition.
The town had attempted in 2015 to enact several pieces of legislation limiting the use of the airport by noisy fixed wing and helicopter traffic. Aviation groups sued soon afterward. While the U.S. District Court upheld two out of three of the town’s rules, they were struck down by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2016.
“The filing by the City of New York illustrates that this issue is all about local control,” said Ms. Burke-Gonzalez in an April 5 statement. “Whether it is our country’s largest city or a small town like East Hampton, local governments know what is right for their community and should have the ability to make local decisions at their own airport.”
“The city has a strong interest … in correcting the Second Circuit’s erroneous view that private parties may destabilize the long-held expectations of state and local governments by hijacking the FAA’s carefully calibrated role under ANCA and unleashing a torrent of private litigation under the statute,” wrote the Corporation Counsel for the City of New York.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals had stated in their decision that East Hampton was required to go through a lengthy process of petitioning for relief under the Airport Noise Control Act, or ANCA, despite the fact that the FAA had given East Hampton guidance that the town would not need to go through ANCA before enacting restrictions.
According to the New York counsel, the court’s “fashioning of a private remedy to enforce ANCA is at odds with congressional intent, undermines the statute’s purpose, and violates constitutional limits on federal-court jurisdiction. Responsibility for protecting local residents from aviation noise has historically been shouldered primarily by local governmental airport proprietors.”
The Committee to Stop Airport Expansion, an unincorporated association of residents living near the East Hampton Airport, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association, which represents more than 2,500 local government entities, also filed a joint amicus brief in support of East Hampton’s Supreme Court petition, as did Southold Town.
“The importance of the City of New York joining in our petition to the Supreme Court cannot be overstated,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell. “We are hopeful that the court will take notice that with the stroke of a pen, the appeals court decision federalized our airport and stripped us – and the tens of thousands of similarly situated airports, including those owned and operated by the City of New York – of the ability to exert local control. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will recognize this as an issue of national concern and grant review to the town’s petition.”
The town board also received its annual noise complaint analysis from Ted Baldwin of HMMH Consulting at its April 18 work session.
Mr. Baldwin said that overall activity at the airport was “basically flat” during the busy season of July through September of 2016 as compared with 2015. The curfews, which have since been struck down by the federal court, were in place both seasons.
Mr. Baldwin said helicopter operations were down about 4 percent, by about 146 operations per year, while seaplane operations were up 15 percent, or 273 operations, while total operations increased by 71.
Noise complaints were a very different picture year-over-year, due to a new noise reporting website called airnoisereport.com, which was developed by private individuals in western Long Island, but which local noise complaint advocates have urged the public to use this past season.
East Hampton has its own noise complaint website, called planenoise.com/khto.
Mr. Baldwin said 14,000 complaints were registered through Air Noise Report in 2016, the first year it was used to document traffic coming to the East Hampton Airport, while the number of complaints received by Plane Noise decreased from 19,100 to 9,980.
Mr. Baldwin advised the town to analyze data from both sources next year to develop a new set of comparable data.
“There was some bleed-off to Air Noise Report,” he said. “The logical question is was it the ease of use of the Air Noise Report system? Did that make it easier for folks to register complaints? That’s possible.”
Mr. Baldwin said that, if specific complaints were measured year-to-year, complaints for helicopters were up 18 percent, while complaints about land planes were up 47 percent and complaints about seaplanes were up 71 percent.
Mr. Cantwell was quick to point out that there were 13,000 complaints about helicopters, when there were only 3,000 helicopter operations during that time, a four to one ratio.
“Obviously, there are multiple complaints about individual operations of that particular type of aircraft,” he said. “For the other types of aircraft, it’s less than one to one.”