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Helicopter pilots, aviation industry challenge East Hampton noise study

A helicopter departs from the East Hampton Town

A helicopter departs from the East Hampton Town Airport in Wainscott on Nov. 11, 2014. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Helicopter pilots and their allies are challenging an East Hampton Town-commissioned study that portrays aircraft noise as a widespread problem on the East End.

Friends of East Hampton Airport, a coalition of pilots and other airport interests, called the $60,000 study "deliberately misleading and purely political" in a letter to Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell. The group asked the Suffolk County comptroller's office to investigate whether it was a misuse of public funds.

"We're happy to get input from all interested parties," Cantwell said. "At the moment, we're in a data collection and information sharing and receiving stage of this review."

Town board members are using the study as a basis for exploring new rules to limit traffic at the airport next year.

In July, East Hampton hired Young Environmental Sciences Inc. of Manhasset to chart noise levels and flight paths within a 10-mile radius of East Hampton Airport, which is in Wainscott. The firm disclosed its findings in an Oct. 30 presentation to the town board.

Residents at the meeting praised the study.

"The statistics are important and excellent and startling," said Kathy Cunningham, an East Hampton resident who has advocated for a quieter airport for about 20 years.

The analysis found that every flight into and out of the airport at some point exceeded the town code's maximum allowable noise level, among other findings. The town code limits noise levels to 50-70 decibels, depending on the time of day and type of property affected.

The pilots' group in their letter questioned why the consultants used last year's flight paths when helicopters are flying at higher altitudes this year, and said analysts sometimes exaggerated noise levels equivalent to "an automobile at 200 feet away."

Henry Young, owner of Young Environmental Sciences, said that he used last year's data because it is the latest set of complete records.

Young also said aircraft noise can be more disturbing to residents against the quiet backdrop of the East End.

"I'm a technical analyst," he said. "I'm not an advocate one way or the other. These are the facts."

Former Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who left office at the end of 2013, also criticized the study in a letter sent to reporters. "You can get a consultant to say anything you want," he wrote.

Wilkinson said Friends of East Hampton Airport hired him as a consultant, but he was not paid to write the letter.

"We're trying to take a logical, deliberate path to analyze the issues before proposing possible solutions," Cantwell said.

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