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Appeals court blocks East Hampton rules over airport noise

A helicopter arrives at East Hampton Town Airport

A helicopter arrives at East Hampton Town Airport in Wainscott on Aug. 6, 2014. A federal appeals court blocked East Hampton rules over airport noise. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A federal appeals court in Manhattan on Friday blocked three local laws designed to reduce traffic and noise at the East Hampton Airport, sending the town back to square one in its efforts to respond to complaints during the busy summer season.

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 3-0 opinion, upheld a lower court order prohibiting enforcement of a weekly limit on flights by “noisy” aircraft and helicopters, and also enjoined laws imposing separate curfews on all flights and on noisy flights.

The court said the town failed to comply with procedures under the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act requiring notice and a chance to be heard for operators, and either their consent or federal approval for restrictions on jets and advanced helicopters.

The curfews from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on all flights and 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. on noisy flights had been in effect since July 2015, but Judge Reena Raggi said that without federal approval they violated a statute designed to ensure that a unified national air-traffic system was not disrupted by varying local laws.

“Congress perceived that a ‘patchwork quilt’ of local noise restrictions continued to stymie the airport development required for the nation’s aviation,” Raggi said.

East Hampton Town attorney Michael Sendlenski said Friday in a statement that the town was “deeply disappointed” in the ruling and that “the court’s opinion undermines local control of operations at the town-owned airport property.”

Sendlenski’s statement said that with the help of former Rep. Tim Bishop, the Federal Aviation Administration had agreed to let East Hampton enforce the laws without the “bureaucratic” and “burdensome” formal approval process the Second Circuit is requiring.

“The town will continue to explore every available option so that the residents of the East End won’t continue to be inflicted by an unrelenting din from the skies above,” the statement said. The options could include further appeals, seeking help from Congress or beginning the process of trying to get formal federal approval.

In 2014, the court said there were 25,714 takeoffs or landings of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, with complaints rising as activity peaked during summer months and helicopter operations rose by 47 percent between 2013 and 2014.

The ordinances were designed to address the causes of about 60 percent of noise complaints, but aviation businesses said they were too restrictive and sued.

Their lawyer, Lisa Zornberg, said in a statement, “We are gratified by the court’s decision, which recognizes the town’s obligations to follow the law like every other public airport in the country before enacting flight restrictions.”

Kathleen Cunningham, chairwoman of the Wainscott-based Quiet Skies Coalition, said she is worried that without the restrictions, East End residents, especially those near the airport, could face cardiac problems and other health issues due to the noise.

“These were hard-won protections, and they were not unreasonable,” she said.

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