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East Hampton reviews options for reducing airport noise

Noise at the East Hampton Airport in Wainscott

Noise at the East Hampton Airport in Wainscott has been a hot-button issue with the proliferation of pay-by-the-seat helicopters and private planes traveling to the Hamptons. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Potential avenues for reducing noise and traffic at East Hampton Airport — ranging from instituting a curfew to closing the Wainscott facility — are under review by town officials.

An attorney hired by the town detailed eight options for the town during a Tuesday work session. Options are being studied for the town’s Part 161 study application to the Federal Aviation Administration, a process intended to enact local restrictions on the town airport. The application is expected to be filed this fall.

The town could request that it be allowed to require prior permission to land, institute a quota for noisy aircrafts or enact a complete ban on the noisiest aircrafts at the airport.

The town could also opt to close the airport in 2021 when mandates that were part of federal grant money accepted by the town expire.

“All of these options are not mutually exclusive and can be layered together,” said attorney Bill O’Connor of Palo Alto, California-based firm Cooley LLP.

Airport noise has been a hot-button issue in the town as the number of pay-by-the-seat helicopters and private planes traveling to the Hamptons has proliferated in recent years.

O’Connor noted the difficulty the town will face in enacting the restrictions. No other general aviation airport — the classification for civilian airports that do not serve scheduled passenger service — has attempted a Part 161 study, he said.

“We are truly in uncharted territory,” he said.

Patricia Currie, a Sag Harbor resident and co-founder of the anti-airport group Say No to KHTO (the airport’s call letters), said she doubts the study will be successful. Her group maintains that the airport should be closed not only because of noise pollution, but also because the aircraft emissions are harmful to residents.

“This is travel for convenience for a group of wealthy individuals and it is not necessary,” Currie said.

The Eastern Region Helicopter Council, an advocacy group for helicopter pilots, said the town should balance the concerns of the community with the needs of the small businesses that rely on the airport.

“While we are always open to working with the community to address their concerns, the East Hampton Airport is a vital economic engine for the region and is already one of the most tightly restricted airports in the nation,” a group spokesman said in a statement.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined last year to review town officials’ bid to reinstate airport curfew laws, which were struck down by an appellate court in November 2016.

The study, which includes a cost-benefit analysis of proposed restrictions and a noise analysis, could cost the town as much as $2 million, town officials have said. That study is to be financed by revenue generated through the airport and not the town’s general fund.

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