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Rise in airport noise complaints prompts call to revive panel

Neighbors of Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach say

Neighbors of Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach say the noise level elevated during the pandemic. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

A largely dormant Suffolk County advisory board that was tasked with addressing noise and other issues at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach may be revived with new members to tackle recent complaints.

The Suffolk County Legislature next Monday will discuss a proposal by Suffolk Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack) to renew the Gabreski Airport Community Advisory Board for one year to address recent traffic and noise concerns.

The advisory board — originally formed in 2005 — had given their primary tasks of addressing airport leases and airport noise to two separate task forces in years past.

However, Fleming said in an interview that her office received "a significant increase" in reports about aircraft noise from private planes and helicopters at the county-owned airport in the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"One of the goals of a reinvigorated public comment process will be to really understand what the facts are and what sort of data there is on what actually is happening," Fleming said. "There’s a whole combination of factors (for what is creating the issue). Right now, I don’t want to form any preconceptions about what the data is until we have an opportunity for all stakeholders to be at the table and look at what the actual experiences and the data show."

Public affairs officials at Gabreski Airport did not immediately return requests for comment.

Jacqueline Chaplin, 59, has a home on Fiddler Crab Trail two miles south of the airport where she and her husband Randall Chaplin stay part-time since purchasing it in summer 2018. Chaplin, who also lives in Remsenberg, said airport noise was noticeable in 2019, but she said she and other neighbors agreed the noise had elevated even more last summer, particularly on weekends.

"The noise is bad and if you’re outside, you can’t hear yourself talk to whoever is sitting with you," Chaplin said.

Chaplin said she initially tried to reach out to the airport and local officials, but found little success in solving the problem. Chaplin began to contact her local legislators and U.S. senators last year.

The East End has seen similar aircraft noise issues from routes coming from East Hampton Airport in Wainscott, where officials have discussed closing the airport because of complaints about aircraft noise and the volume of traffic.

Suffolk Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said his constituents also complained that jet traffic heading from Gabreski toward Cutchogue has led to increased noise along parts of the North Fork. Krupski said the uptick in noise was likely from second homeowners who frequented the East End more last year during the pandemic.

"The airports on the South Fork affect the quality of life over the North Fork when they fly over it," Krupski said.

Fleming said she is aiming to get the advisory board restarted as soon as possible. The board would hold meetings at least quarterly and submit a written report of the findings and recommendations to the Suffolk County executive and the Suffolk County Legislature within one year of the approval of the resolution to reconstitute the board.

Advisory board members

The members would include the airport manager or a designee; director of the county Division of Planning and Environment; commissioner of the county Department of Economic Development and Planning; commander of the United States Air National Guard’s 106th Air Rescue Wing; a representative selected by the Suffolk County Legislature with a background of at least five years in the field of recreational aviation; and representatives from the Westhampton Village Chamber of Commerce, Westhampton School District, and Quogue Civic Association; a civic leader from Southampton Town; and a representative residing in a community surrounding the airport.

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