East Hampton Town officials have created two committees -- one filled with supporters of the town airport and the other with people who oppose the noise of its operations -- and are hoping they can come up with a solution to a decades-long conflict.
"It took some heavy lifting," said Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, who helped to get the two sides to agree to a "bicameral approach" to studying the noise problems that have divided the town for at least 30 years.
The fight over the airport got much more intense in the past few years, as helicopters began shuttling people from Manhattan to East Hampton, increasing noise and the number of flights. At one public hearing on noise problems last year, people complained that the helicopter noise was louder and lasted longer than the noise of private jets.
East Hampton Airport, which covers 600 acres in Wainscott on the border of East Hampton and Southampton, is open 24 hours a day. It gets about 30,000 takeoffs and landings a year, with the majority taking place between May and October, officials said.
Federal officials have worked to find alternate routes to the airport to spread out the noise, but whenever flights are moved, it makes some people happy and others unhappy.
When the town began collecting data on noise complaints in 2012, officials logged nearly 1,500 complaints in July of that year, and they found out that one person had made 551 of them. In 2002, town residents were split when East Hampton attempted to update its master plan for the airport. One man complained that the airport's earlier master plan was designed around 12,500-pound propeller planes, while the updated one was designed around 41,250-pound business jets.
In a related action, the town board directed its Budget and Finance Advisory Committee to perform a financial analysis of the town airport's operations to determine if federal grants are needed for its regular operations.
That will become important at the end of this year, when existing FAA grants expire, officials said. The residents who want to limit operations and hours at the airport have been frustrated because when FAA grants are accepted the airport must operate under FAA rules, which cover hours of operation and limits on types of aircraft permitted to take off and land.