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Report: Noise complaints at East Hampton airport up 130%

Complaints reported Jan. 1 to July 31, 2017,

Complaints reported Jan. 1 to July 31, 2017, reached 30,821 at the East Hampton Airport in Wainscott. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Noise complaints at the East Hampton Airport increased by more than 130 percent in the first seven months of 2017, even as the number of flights increased only slightly, officials said Monday.

Complaints reported Jan. 1 to July 31, 2017, reached 30,821 — 10 more complaints than reported in all of 2016, according to an analysis by Burlington, Massachusetts, consulting firm HMMH. Only 13,234 complaints were registered in the first seven months of 2016.

But airport operations increased by only 6 percent in the first seven months of 2017 compared with the same period in 2016, said Mary Ellen Eagan, president and chief executive of HMMH.

While helicopters represented only 27 percent of the airport’s operations, with 3,913 flights, they were the source of 60 percent of the complaints, Eagan said.

Eagan cautioned that the complaint data this year came from two registries — PlaneNoise and Air Noise Report — whereas complaint data in previous years came solely from Plane Noise. She noted it is “entirely possible” that people filed the same complaints with both registries.

Data was not yet available for operations and complaints from August, typically the busiest month at the airport, officials said.

The dramatic increase in noise complaints came after a federal appellate court in November 2016 struck down restrictions on late-night and early-morning flights at the Wainscott airport, following a lawsuit by Friends of the East Hampton Airport, a coalition of nine aviation-ally groups. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court denied town officials’ appeal to review the case.

The curfew, which was passed in April 2015 and implemented in July 2015, had 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.

Officials are weighing whether to move forward with a Part 161 study, which is “essentially applying to the FAA to implement airport restrictions,” said Bill O’Connor, of the international law firm Morrison & Foerster.

The study, which includes a cost-benefit analysis of proposed restrictions and a noise analysis, could cost East Hampton between $1.5 and 2 million and take two to three years — without any hiccups or litigation, O’Connor estimated.

“It is very time-consuming and very costly to go through this process,” he said.

Of 10 Part 161 studies conducted by municipalities across the country, only one — in Naples, Florida — resulted in some local restrictions, O’Connor said.

Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said officials are not sure what specific restrictions they would propose for the study, noting “we’re going to take out a clean sheet of paper” and “have a very transparent process.”

Officials said they are also considering including the privately-owned Montauk Airport in the Part 161 study, but had not yet spoken with owner Montauk Airstrip Inc.

Town officials will present airport data and the Part 161 process during a 10 a.m. work session Tuesday at Town Hall.

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