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Southampton may limit aircraft traffic at its heliport

Passengers wait to board a helicopter landing at

Passengers wait to board a helicopter landing at the Southampton Village heliport on Meadow Lane in Southampton, June 25, 2015. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A federal judge's recent injunction prohibiting limits on takeoffs and landings at East Hampton's airport has Southampton officials rethinking similar rules at the heliport on Meadow Lane.

Village officials wanted certain local regulations in place in case the judge's ruling Friday led to crowding at the Southampton Heliport as a result of overflow aircraft from the East Hampton Airport in Wainscott. A public hearing on Southampton's proposed new law closed last week. It is scheduled for discussion again at the board's meeting next Thursday.

Under the proposed law, each helicopter would be allowed to land and take off only three times per week through Sept. 15. Currently, landings and takeoffs are unlimited during the summer, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. In the winter months, the curfew begins at sunset instead of 7 p.m.

"Our attorney felt we shouldn't adopt anything until we saw what happened with East Hampton," Southampton village administrator Stephen Funsch said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "They might be concerned about potential litigation."

He added that the July Fourth weekend also will give board members a chance to monitor East Hampton aircraft traffic. "The holiday should give us a good indication of what to expect," Funsch said.

U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert's ruling was part of a lawsuit filed by Friends of East Hampton Airport, a coalition of helicopter operators and their allies. The coalition sued the town April 21, arguing new local regulations are illegal because the federal government regulates air traffic. The group asked the court for an injunction to stop the laws while the case is argued.

Seybert allowed the town to impose two of three curfews that East Hampton's town board passed in April -- a mandatory 11 p.m.-to-7 a.m. nighttime curfew, and an extended 8 p.m.-to-9 a.m. curfew on noisy aircraft, both year-round -- but issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting a one-trip-per-week limit on noisy aircraft from going into effect. The restriction was to be in place between May and September.

Southampton Mayor Mark Epley was not available for comment Wednesday, but before Seybert's ruling he said in an interview last week that the village cannot handle additional aircraft, and added that a final ruling lifting the injunction on landing restrictions has the potential to "basically eliminate 80 percent of the activity at that [East Hampton] airport."

"That activity is going to go somewhere," Epley said. "The Village of Southampton cannot handle the overflow."

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