With just six months left until East Hampton is free of federal requirements to allow broad access to their airport, critics of the noise generated by ever-expanding air traffic there are sensing a potential changing wind for their cause in the halls of town hall.
Neighbors of the airport and people who live under its many direct approach and departure routes crowded into the town board meeting room July 3 to plead for independence from airport noise.
They were lead by Quiet Skies Coalition founder Kathy Cunningham, who read her own version of the Declaration of Independence, rewritten from the point of view of advocates for quieter skies.
Citing the airport’s impingement on the pursuit of happiness by East Hampton’s citizens, she said the populace of the town had been subject to abuse by outside aviation interests and “the absolute despotism of airport expansion at any cost.”
“Such has been the patient sufferance of we, the noise-affected,” she said. “These are our skies. This is our town. This is our airport.”
In the past, the town has received Federal Aviation Administration grant money for improvements to the airport, which has locked the town into an agreement that doesn’t allow the municipality to limit the hours of operation or types of aircraft that can land in East Hampton.
Those so-called “grant assurances” are slated to expire at the end of this year, and the town board voted July 3 to repave taxiway 4-22 and repair taxiway lighting at the airport with the town’s own borrowed funds, not through a grant, a move many in attendance saw as the first step toward local control of the airport.
East Hampton real estate agent Tom MacNiven, who sits on a new town committee that is studying airport costs, said he receives three to five phone calls a week from other realtors whose clients want to know if the houses they’re planning to buy are under the airport’s flight paths.
He said a lot of houses have gone unrented this summer season, in part due to fears about noisy aircraft en route to the airport.
“Entire areas are being stigmatized right now,” he said. “People are now using [their proximity to the] airport to appeal their taxes.”
Barry Raebeck of Wainscott said helicopters fly over his house every five minutes.
“It’s relentless about four out of every seven days,” he said, adding that for years, East Hampton Airport was classified as a municipal airport.
“We’re now classified by the FAA as a regional airport. Will it next be a metropolitan airport?” he asked.
Cheryl Gold of Wireless Road, which is under the Sierra southern approach to the airport, said she has had several conversations with new airport senior attendant Peter Boody about the constant jet traffic over her house, to which has now been added constant helicopter traffic since a recent route change.
“He’s been very responsive, but it doesn’t make me feel any better,” she said, adding that she told Mr. Boody that she doesn’t know why the helicopters were moved in line with the jet traffic, when the purported purpose of the change in the flight path was for the safety of helicopter traffic.
“He said, ‘you know, you have a point,'” she said. “This didn’t make me feel any better, to tell you the truth.”
Adding Lake Montauk Watershed to the CPF List
East Hampton is in the midst of a dramatic push to preserve land surrounding Lake Montauk, which is currently closed in many areas to swimmers and shellfishers, in the hopes of restoring the health of the lake.
The town board agreed July 3 to add 166 parcels of land in the Lake Montauk watershed to its list of properties it would like to acquire using Community Preservation Fund money, and approved the purchase of three vacant properties near the lake.
The list had previously included 535 parcels of land throughout town. The private owners of those properties aren’t obligated to sell them to the town, but they are pieces of land that the town has deemed to have enough environmental significance to be protected.
Town Land Acquisition Director Scott Wilson said that of the town’s many water bodies, “Lake Montauk has the most issues and therefore the most to gain by preserving vacant land in its watershed.”
He added that his office is beginning an outreach program to contact the owners of vacant land surrounding the lake to see if they’re interested in selling to the town.
“Acquisition can help ensure these properties continue to be excellent buffers to the lake. We hope to open the whole lake for swimming and shellfishing.”
Hunting to Go Forward
The New York State Legislature allowed bowhunting within 150 feet of houses earlier this year at the behest of East End lawmakers who said the previous limit of 500 feet excluded many areas here that could have been hunted.
East Hampton added 16 parcels totaling 294 acres of town-owned land to its list of areas that can be opened to bowhunting, and added 174 acres at Culloden in Montauk to its list of properties where hunting with firearms is allowed.
Dark Skies Update Adopted
East Hampton also approved an update to its dark skies law July 3. The adopted version of the law does not contain the section that allowed for bulbs with a color temperature up to 3,500 lumens, which was the source of much contention at a public hearing back in June.