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Zeldin amendment shields East Hampton officials from FAA penalties over airport noise battle

A helicopter departs from the East Hampton Town

A helicopter departs from the East Hampton Town Airport in Wainscott, Nov. 11, 2014. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

East Hampton's fight against helicopter noise reached the halls of Congress on Tuesday, as the House of Representatives passed an amendment meant to shield town officials from being penalized for enacting local air-traffic restrictions.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who introduced the amendment, said he wants to ensure the Federal Aviation Administration stands by a commitment to allow East Hampton officials to enforce anti-noise regulations at town-owned East Hampton Airport. He said there were signs the agency was "wavering."

"With the high season upon us, many of my constituents are finding themselves bewildered by actions of the FAA," Zeldin said in comments on the House floor Tuesday, referring to the Hamptons tourism season that results in thousands of helicopter flights over eastern Long Island.

"Federal agencies ought to stand by their word and keep their commitments to the members of Congress and the citizens we represent," added Zeldin, who was elected last year.

Zeldin attached the amendment to a bill funding the Department of Transportation, which includes the FAA. The Senate has to also pass the bill with the amendment for it to become law.

An FAA spokeswoman said Wednesday that the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

On April 16, the East Hampton Town Board passed three laws restricting traffic at the airport, but the regulations have been tied up in a federal court fight with helicopter pilots and their allies. The rules include nighttime curfews on flights and a one trip per week limit for noisy aircraft.

FAA officials sided with the aviation industry in a court filing last month, asking a judge to halt enforcement of the rules this summer while the lawsuit is argued. A ruling on the injunction is expected by June 26.

Zeldin said the FAA's action went against assurances the agency made to his predecessor, then-Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) in a 2012 letter stating East Hampton was allowed to restrict traffic at the airport after parts of a federal contract expired on Jan. 1, 2015.

Zeldin's amendment says the FAA cannot "institute an administrative or civil action" against the town. East Hampton officials thanked Zeldin in a statement Wednesday.

"Local control is the heart of the issue over East Hampton Airport and helicopter noise," Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said. "Will the people of East Hampton, through their elected representatives, be able to reasonably regulate our municipal airport, or will the bureaucrats in Washington and the national aviation interest groups control it?"

Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesman for Friends of East Hampton Airport, the aviation industry group suing the town, said the amendment is "unfortunate and we do not believe it will ever become law. "


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