Helicopter restrictions are on the table at the East Hampton Airport
Noisy helicopters have been under a curfew in East Hampton, but many say that’s not enough.

Advocates for quiet skies have been peppering the East Hampton Town Board all week with pleas for more reductions in noise emanating from aircraft that use the East Hampton Town Airport.

At the beginning of the summer, just two of three proposed town laws regulating noisy aircraft that use the airport went into effect, after a federal judge upheld an injunction against the third rule — limiting noisy aircraft to just one flight per week — filed by pilot advocacy groups.

The town has since appealed that ruling, a process that Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said Tuesday would likely take months.

The town was able to go forward with a mandatory nighttime curfew from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and noisy aircraft have not been able to use the airport between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. since the rules went into effect July 2.

At Tuesday’s work session, a handful of people who are suffering from aircraft noise spoke at the urging of the Quiet Skies Coalition, which some said had been circulating literature accusing the current town board of not doing enough to curb noise pollution at the airport.

By Thursday evening, the grumblings had risen to a roar, when a large group of opponents of airport noise rallied outside town hall before the board’s 6:30 p.m. meeting.

Laura Leever of Sag Harbor showed up for Tuesday’s work session to say she’d recieved an email from Quiet Skies questioning whether East Hampton had done enough to try to regulate the airport.

Ms. Leever, a teacher who has summers off, said can’t enjoy any time in her home because of aircraft noise, and she makes about 50 complaints per day to the town’s airport noise hotline.

“I’m tied to my computer,” she said. “The only reason I don’t do it 100 times a day is I need to eat or use the restroom or something.”

When Mr. Cantwell and the rest of the board heard that she’d come to the meeting after receiving a message from Quiet Skies, they began chuckling. He recited to her a list of all the work the town board had done this year on the airport issue.

“Quiet Skies questioning the board’s resolve is unfathomable,” said Mr. Cantwell.

Quiet Skies Coalition Chairwoman Kathy Cunningham said that, for her personally, aircraft noise has gotten worse this summer, not better.

“I just want to remind you that there’s more to do,” she said. “The curfews are a welcome relief at night but they compresses operations into a shorter timetable… Thank you for what you’re doing, and please be as aggressive as you can to go forward.”

Gene Polito of Noyac saw the issue in terms of class warfare.

“You think they give a damn about us?” he said of helicopter users and of several billionaires who are investing in a new helicopter ride-sharing app. “These are people who view this as a fun luxury. Do we have to accept this abuse from these people? We shouldnt have to tiptoe around them and make the East End more and more decadent.”

Peter Wolf said he believes the regulations that were passed were de minimis — the least amount of regulations possible.

He called on the town to increase the curfews, closing the airport at 5 p.m. and opening it at 9 a.m.

Mr. Cantwell said the town plans to compile all information on airport traffic after the Labor Day Weekend and have a public meeting this fall to discuss the effects of the regulations this summer.

“We would like to have a full season of data,” he said.

Jim Matthews, chairman of the Northwest Alliance, a group of about 80 homeowners in the Northwest Woods, said many people in his group have grown weary of filing noise complaints with the town.

“We all laugh at filing complaints,” he said. “Resistance is being replaced by resentment and I don’t think that’s good for anyone involved.”

Mr. Matthews said the regulations that were passed were “half-measures at best.”

“There’s a rumor that contravening influences are undermining your resolve,” he said.

At Thursday evening’s meeting, many people expressed their gratitude to the board for what they’ve done, but said it had done little to help their lives.

Beverly Schanzer, who lives near Round Pond in Sag Harbor, praised the board for their “perseverance, bravery and an unbelievable amount of time devoted to the airport situation,” after which the audience broke into fevered applause.

“We really do applaud you and unfortunately it’s not over yet,” she said. “I don’t know what else you can do. I know there is powerful money that is opposed to the ban…. We’ve got to be able to restrict these aircrafts. They’re ruining our lives.”

Preston Phillips of Bridgehampton said there were “almost as many noise complaints as takeoffs and landings this July 4 weekend.”

Tom MacNiven filed complaint number 74,296 with the town’s airport noise hotline Thursday afternoon.

“Things are not better. They’re worse than ever,” he said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Mr. MacNiven suggested the board fire their attorney handling airport issues, charge for parking at the airport and stop paying a quarter of a million dollars each winter to plow snow at the airport.

Cheryl Gold of East Hampton thanked the board “for hiring a top appellate litigator” in their appeals case.

“Unfortunately, the nighttime curfews have not resulted in reducing negative impacts,” she said, adding that the noise this year was “by far the worst” in 30 years.

Paula Flaherty of Mattituck said she sat outside an IGA on the North Fork with 100 letters for residents to sign to send to the FAA opposing aircraft noise. She didn’t think she’d get people to sign all the letters.

“I got 100 names in an hour and 15 minutes,” she said. “I had to pack up and go home. I ran out of letters.”

Ms. Flaherty said one of her neighbors, a Vietnam veteran, recently had to be taken to the hospital “reminiscing about Hanoi in 1967” after a particularly busy day of helicopter traffic over their neighborhood.

“You’re affecting all of these citizens,” she said.

Barry Raebeck of Wainscott suggested that the town just simply close the airport.

Mr. Cantwell said that isn’t an option until after all of the town’s grant assurances to the FAA expire in 2021. He also apologized for the lack of information about the status of the airport this summer and promised to hold “at least one significant public meeting” when all the data is compiled this fall.

“We will do a formal review ourselves and we will evaluate what happened this summer,” he said. “It’s a complicated issue in many ways. We always look for simple answers…but unfortunately that’s rarely the case. We are in litigation, as you all know. I think we won a significant victory. Judge Siebert’s decision made it pretty clear that we have rights to restrict. That has been a question for many years.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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