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Helicopter traffic rose 29 percent after anti-noise laws overturned, East Hampton says

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a trio of laws regulating excessive aircraft noise in November 2016, and the Supreme Court declined to review the ruling. 

East Hampton Town officials said in a news release issued Thursday that helicopter and jet traffic at the airport in Wainscott increased noticeably in 2017, and attributed the change to a 2016 court decision that overturned a set of local laws enacted to reduce excessive aircraft noise.

Town officials said data reported to the town by Vector Airport Systems, aviation consultants,  showed that between 2016 and 2017, there was a 7 percent increase in total operations and a 29 percent increase in helicopter operations. According to the news release, “the overall increase is the direct consequence of the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit . . . to enjoin three Town laws designed to relieve East End residents from excessive aircraft noise.”

The laws were overturned in a November 2016 ruling by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In June 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the town’s petition to review the lower court’s ruling.

“You can see the immediate impact of the court’s decision,” Councilman Jeff Bragman said in the news release. “When two curfews were in effect between July 2015 and November 2016, overall traffic stayed level and helicopter traffic actually decreased. Now that the Court has usurped the Town’s ability to exercise local control, operations are on the rise, and helicopter traffic has returned with a vengeance.”

Jim Peters, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said Friday that the agency had no comment on the findings.

Teresa McCaskie, a Mattituck resident and chairwoman of Southold’s Helicopter Noise Steering Committee, said that she had not seen the study but was aware of it, and that North Fork residents have felt the effects of increased helicopter traffic near their homes.

“It starts from morning into the evening; the amount of time helicopters fly over has increased,” she said. “It’s just a really bad situation.”

East Hampton officials said they have been working with the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council, a helicopter pilots advocacy group, to “identify and promote” voluntary noise abatement routes. They added that they are consulting with the federal delegation to identify legislative options for meaningful relief; and pursuing a formal Part 161 airport study — which would include a noise analysis and a cost-benefit analysis of proposed airport restrictions aimed at curbing aircraft noise — to satisfy the Second Circuit Court’s mandate.

Representatives for the helicopter council did not respond to requests for comment.

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