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East Hampton loses bid to Supreme Court to limit airport noise

Town officials had sought to reinstate laws that

Town officials had sought to reinstate laws that restricted late-night and early-morning flights at East Hampton Airport in Wainscott, seen on Nov. 16, 2016. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it has denied a petition by East Hampton Town officials to review a lower court ruling that nullified airport curfew laws.

Supreme Court justices considered the case during a conference on Thursday.

Town officials filed the petition in March in an effort to reinstate laws that restricted late-night and early-morning flights — and thus reduce noise — at East Hampton Airport in Wainscott.

The laws, which were passed in April 2015, were struck down on Nov. 4, 2016, by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 3-0 decision after Friends of the East Hampton Airport, a coalition of nine aviation ally groups, sued the town.

The curfew prohibited all flights between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. and noisy aircraft flights between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. between May 1 and Sept. 30.

Supervisor Larry Cantwell said Monday that town officials have exhausted their legal options.

“This is an airport that’s owned by the people of East Hampton,” Cantwell said. “The people that live here are the ones that should be able to decide how that airport is operated on a reasonable basis, and under the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision, our hands are tied.”

Cantwell said officials will move “full steam ahead” on a Part 161 study, the first step in requesting that the Federal Aviation Administration allow local airport noise and access restrictions. The study includes a noise analysis of the airport and an opportunity for public input.

Charles Spada, an attorney representing Friends of the East Hampton Airport, said the group is gratified that “the well-reasoned” decision of the lower court remains in effect.

Also on Monday, Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) announced that the State Legislature passed a bill — which requires Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature — to require permissive referendums on accepting any federal or state financial assistance to the East Hampton Airport. Such referendums would mean that residents could approve or deny, via a petition to the town board, to accept state or federal funds.

Town officials have not accepted FAA funding in 16 years.

Cantwell said officials will continue to appeal to congressional representatives about crafting legislation that would allow public airports without FAA funding to adopt local restrictions.

About 15,000 takeoffs and landings occur at the airport every year between June 30 and Sept. 30. Last year, 24,309 complaints were made about aircraft noise during the busy summer season.

Kent Feuerring, president of the East Hampton Aviation Association, a pilot’s group that was not a party in the lawsuit, said the group is “mostly happy with the outcome.”

“At the end of the day, it’s very important we work with the town and the community to figure out a way that works for everybody and that manages the noise,” said Feuerring, who also produces commercials.

Kathy Cunningham, chairwoman of the Wainscott-based Quiet Skies Coalition, a community organization seeking limits on airport noise, said the court’s decision is disappointing but not unexpected.

“We’re in for a hellish season,” Cunningham said. “It’s going to be awful.”

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