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East Hampton town board passes curfews, limits on summer airport flights

Residents at the East Hampton Town Board meeting

Residents at the East Hampton Town Board meeting react to the board enacted new airport regulations Thursday night, April 16, 2015. Credit: Veronique Louis

The East Hampton Town Board voted Thursday to impose curfews and limits to air traffic at the town's municipal airport, long-anticipated steps meant to reduce noise from flights between New York City and the Hamptons during the busy summer season.

Residents applauded as the board cast two 5-0 votes and one 4-1 vote, capping more than a year of work to craft air-traffic restrictions for East Hampton Airport.

The new limits will take effect before Memorial Day. The regulations consist of an 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew daily on takeoffs and landings; an extended curfew of 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. daily for aircraft considered noisy; and a one-trip-per-week limit for noisy aircraft from May 1 to Sept. 30. The town defines noisy aircraft as those that exceed certain decibel levels.

"We must recognize that these three local laws are not the end of a process but the beginning of a long-term commitment," said Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, who has led the anti-noise push.

Kathy Cunningham of East Hampton, who has pushed for anti-noise rules for about 20 years, agreed. "It's a historic moment that the town board has finally acted on behalf of the greater community," she said. "It's not everything we'd hoped for, but it's a big first step and we'll just have to assess and keep up the pressure if it's inadequate."

The actions drew criticism from aviation interests who said the rules are draconian, and other residents who said they don't go far enough.

East Hampton officials last week retreated from a fourth rule that would have banned helicopters on summer weekends and holidays, citing concerns that the policy was so strict it would have redirected traffic to Montauk and other landing sites on the East End.

Vincent Covello, another resident, said he and his wife were "deeply disappointed" the board backed off the proposed ban. "We're now thinking of moving from the town of East Hampton," he said.

East Hampton officials must still defend the rules in court. Friends of East Hampton Airport, a group of helicopter pilots and other aviation interests, filed two legal actions in January seeking to block the town's actions.

In a statement Thursday, Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesman for the group, called the restrictions severe and illegal.

"Rather than working together to find a balanced, reasonable approach, as they promised, the town has passed restrictions that violate the law and result in dramatic loss in revenue for the airport and town," he said.

Since about 1980, residents have complained of a racket from helicopters, jets and seaplanes over eastern Long Island. Complaints in recent years have come from as far as Shelter Island and Southold.

Experts told Newsday last year that East Hampton's air-traffic regulations had little precedent in the United States, where regulators generally require federally-funded airports to stay open to all aircraft at all hours.

East Hampton officials believe they gained new powers over the airport Jan. 1, when they took the unusual steps of allowing parts of a federal contract to expire and swearing off future federal grants for airport maintenance.

Councilman Fred Overton cast the lone no vote, on the one-trip-per-week limit. "I favor an incremental approach," he said. "Let's pursue the fewest restrictions possible, and if it proves necessary, we can adopt more restrictions next year."

East Hampton officials said they would monitor air traffic and noise this summer and adjust the laws next year if necessary.

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