The East Hampton Town Board approved three new regulations Thursday night aimed at curbing noisy aircraft that use the town’s Wainscott airport. The regulations are expected to go into effect this summer.
They include a mandatory nighttime curfew, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., an extended curfew on noisy aircraft (not including turboprops) from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. and a limit on operations by noisy aircraft of one trip per week during the summer season.
The board did not vote on an earlier proposed rule that would have banned helicopters on weekends during the summer season.
Councilwoman Kathee-Burke Gonzalez, the town board’s liaison to the airport, had suggested last week that the board table that proposal after representatives from neighboring communities expressed concern that the helicopters would instead fly into other South Fork airports and the helipad in Southampton Village.
The three regulations passed Thursday night would likely address 73 percent of the complaints about operations at the airport, according to the town’s noise consultant, HMMH.
The board unanimously approved the two curfew-related regulations, but Councilman Fred Overton voted against the one-trip limit.
“This restriction will seriously inconvenience airport users,” he said, adding that he would have liked the board to have phased in the restrictions more gradually.
“I am concerned that politically it will be difficult for this board to relax restrictions that are already in place…I favor an incremental approach.”
Airport Planning Noise Subcommittee Chairman David Gruber said he believes the town’s decision to back off on the helicopter restriction makes clear how weighty these decisions are.
“This is not because anyone has concluded the problem is not as serious or confounding as we had believed,” he said. “It’s because it’s more serious.”
“What this tells us is that no one in this community is prepared to tolerate this noise,” he said.
He added that the aviation community has one more opportunity “to demonstrate to us that their voluntary measure can succeed. if that doesn’t work, sooner or later, its us or them. We live here and we’re not going anywhere.”
Dr. Vincent Covello, who works on the World Health Organization’s Ebola committee and lives in East Hampton, said he’s considering leaving town because of the aircraft noise.
He added that real estate agents are advising their clients in the Northwest Woods section of East Hampton to not sell their houses before the airport issue is resolved, because helicopter flight paths are now being routed over those neighborhoods.
He added that the historically African-American neighborhoods of Sag Harbor, which are also under the flight path, are considering filing a lawsuit claiming racial discrimination if helicopters continue to be routed over the neighborhood.
“If this happens, the blame will be placed squarely on you, the board,” he said.
Dr. Covello added that he believes complaints about traffic being routed to the Southampton helipad are unfounded because Southampton has the ability to limit the number of helicopters that can land there because they have not taken federal aviation grants for the upkeep of the helipad.
Tom Knobel said he doesn’t believe the East Hampton Airport can be self-sustaining, without federal grant money, with the new restrictions in place.
“The all things for all people claims in this statement do not coincide with reality,” he said. “One of East Hampton’s greatest assets is being grievously endangered.”
Twenty-six-year-old Walker Bragman, who was raised in East Hampton, said he believes the town should fight for the people who live here.
“A lot of people I knew moved because they could no longer afford to live here,” he said. “Who does this town really serve? Are we a Washington aviation lobby or are we a community? I think we’re a community.”
Concerned Citizens of Montauk Executive Director Jeremy Samuelson said he hopes the board keeps its commitment to monitor the effectiveness of the restrictions throughout the summer.
“The frank reality is that we have a noise problem now and we’re still going to have a noise problem after this legislation goes through,” he said. “This is not a magic wand. You haven’t pitched it as such and I don’t think that anyone who wants to be forthright would propose it that way. First attempts to deal with problems rarely get the whole thing right right out the gate.”