Gurney's Inn
November 08, 2006

Helicopters Hella Loud, Area Man Says

The complaint was met with what amounted to a collective shoulder shrug. It's not their bailiwick, members of the East Hampton Town Board told Bridgehampton resident Irwin Sarason. Last Friday, Sarason appeared before the town board asking whether the town could do anything about the noise generated by helicopters flying in and out of East Hampton Airport.

It can't, Supervisor Bill McGintee informed. The Federal Aviation Administration holds the ultimate power over what type of activity can or can't occur at the airport, he said. Many years ago, when the town accepted grant money from the FAA, the funds came with strings, known as "grant assurances." In most cases the grant assurances gave the FAA authority over airport activities for years at a clip. The supervisor estimated that the earliest the town could possibly free itself from FAA control is 2014.

Everything the town has done to abate noise includes the proviso that the recommendations pilots are asked to follow are voluntary. According to Councilman Pete Hammerle, the board's liaison to airport matters, "a lot of people have cooperated."

Ed Gorman, a longtime critic of the airport, affirmed there has been "remarkable progress" with voluntary compliance.

Currently, the town is compiling a master plan for its facility, which is located in Wainscott on Daniel's Hole Road. Part of that project, Hammerle said, will include examining what it will take "to get out from under" FAA grant assurances. If that could be accomplished, the town would have more control, he said. Hammerle speculated that the town's relationship with the FAA dates back to the 1940s. When Sarason noted, "It's a shame you gave up your rights," the councilman offered, "It's a shame. Yeah, I agree."

According to Sarason, more choppers land in East Hampton than at any other comparable facility in the state. While the town board can't do much about airport activity, Congressman Tim Bishop may be able to help. In collaboration with Senator Charles Schumer, he recently wrote to FAA administrator Marion Blakey demanding action on long stalled regulations to mitigate residential helicopter noise.

According to Bishop spokesman Nick Holder, while the congressman has been advocating for the regulations since he's been in office, a crash in Kings Park last May ratcheted up the level of urgency. After a chopper crashed in a schoolyard in Smithtown, Bishop contacted the FAA. He asked the agency to complete a study of the effects of helicopter noise that had been languishing for a couple of years.

The contact compelled the FAA to complete the study, Holder reported. The study acknowledged helicopter noise does indeed impact the quality of life in residential areas under flight paths. When there was yet another crash on Long Island last summer Bishop and Schumer demanded action. "We strongly urge you to act on the recommendations included in the Helicopter Noise Study by investigating further the need for industry reform and creating a federal template for voluntary noise reduction alternatives that all levels of government and the helicopter industry can follow," the co-authored letter states.

Some 20 years ago, the FAA began the process of regulating helicopter traffic and noise. According to Bishop, helicopter carriers proposed voluntary noise abatement efforts and the move toward regulating choppers stalled. Over time, the voluntary noise abatement practice has been, Bishop said, "largely ignored."

"I have heard from people all over Suffolk County who are fed up that the clear skies above their homes have turned into the L.I.E. for helicopters," the congressman said. "Suffolk County residents are tired of the constant din of helicopter noise, and frankly, so am I. This is an important quality of life issue and the FAA needs to take immediate action to give families relief."

Bishop is awaiting a response to the letter. "We'll see what comes back from the FAA," Holder said, "The Congressman understands this is going to be a long fight and he's going to keep working on it."

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