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Dozens speak, hundreds meet at East End helicopter noise discussion

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, C-Shirley, NY-1), Vice Chairman

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, C-Shirley, NY-1), Vice Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation, hosted a press conference at Southold Town Hall in Southold on helicopter noise issues on the East End joined with politicians from the North and Sout Forks along with Shelter Island, March 8, 2015. Credit: Randee Daddona

One side said restricting helicopter traffic over the East End would cause the wealthy to abandon the Hamptons and take their money to Nantucket or Block Island.

The other argued that bold action is needed to restore the peace to homes and backyards across eastern Long Island.

Familiar arguments dominated a packed, emotional four-hour public hearing yesterday on air traffic regulations designed to solve a decades-old problem of aircraft noise over the East End.

East Hampton Town Board members are proposing a package of rules at town-owned East Hampton Airport that include a summer weekend ban on helicopters, nighttime curfews and a one-trip-per-week limit on some aircraft in the summer. Officials said they want the regulations in place by Memorial Day.

About 80 people spoke at the hearing, which drew more than 200 people to a Wainscott auditorium. The town board did not vote on the proposal Thursday night.

Dozens of residents urged the East Hampton officials to follow through with bold actions they said would reduce summertime noise from part-time residents and visitors flying between New York City and the Hamptons.

There were 4,198 helicopter flights logged at East Hampton Airport last year, a 47 percent increase from 2013.

Many dismissed arguments that curbing air traffic would cause rich part-time residents to spend their summers elsewhere.

"If the only reason they care about East Hampton is that they can get here by helicopter, let them go," said Susan McGraw Keber, an East Hampton resident who is a member of the anti-noise Quiet Skies Coalition.

Helicopter pilots, recreational pilots and employees of businesses based at East Hampton Airport lined up to argue that the rules would devastate the South Fork resort economy.

"If the users of the airport all got together and decided not to pay their taxes, this town would be broke overnight," said Jonathan Sabin, whose family owns the East Hampton-based Sabin Metal Corp. "It's dangerous to enrage that demographic."

Keith Vitolo, a charter helicopter pilot who owns White Plains-based Awesome Flight LLC, said his light, four-seat Robinson R44 helicopter is quiet and he feels the regulations are unfair.

"It's me you're putting out of business," Vitolo said. "I'm against the helicopter ban. I am for keeping your community quiet."

Aviation industry members in January filed two legal actions to block the regulations.

The hearing drew officials from five eastern Long Island towns. Helicopters pass over the North Fork and Shelter Island on their way to the South Fork.

"Don't be bullied by anybody," said Suffolk Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue). "This is your town, this is your airport and you should make the rules."

Southampton officials and Montauk representatives said they fear the rules would divert air traffic to Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, the Southampton Village helipad and the small Montauk Airport.

"If you squeeze the balloon in one spot, it's going to bulge out in another," said Jeremy Samuelson, director of the environmental group Concerned Citizens of Montauk.

"You cannot discount the undue consequences," said Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.

East Hampton officials have commissioned a study to estimate how many flights may be diverted. The results are pending.

"We had a terrific dialog and discussion," East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said after the hearing. "Well-behaved for the most part. A few personal attacks, which is unfortunate."

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