Long-running dispute over Hamptons aircraft noise hits crescendo; combatants prep for fight

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MINEOLA, New York — The long-simmering fight over noise from planes and helicopters landing on Long Island's Hamptons is reaching a crescendo this winter: Town officials are considering new laws to strictly limit flights, while aviation advocates are headed to court in order to keep flying.

"The noise makes my blood pressure jump; I can't sleep," says Teresa McCaskie, a year-round Mattituck resident and longtime critic of the racket created by approximately 25,000 annual takeoffs and landings at nearby East Hampton Town Airport. The majority of flights — almost 20,000 — happen between May and September.

"There's no ignoring it, no letting it go," she said. "And it's not just one or two; it's the constant pounding of the sound. You can't think clearly, you can't function. It's impossible."

After receiving 24,591complaints about airport-related noise in 2014, almost quadruple the 6,776 a year earlier, town officials are preparing new local laws to severely limit access to the facility. Complaints about airport noise have been growing over the past decade.

The town's proposed changes include a year-round 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew, and limits on so-called "noisy" aircraft as defined by FAA sound standards. Most drastically, town officials want to prohibit all helicopter operations from noon Thursday to noon Monday during the summer. A public hearing is set for early March, and town supervisor Larry Cantwell expects a final vote before Memorial Day.

"The reaction is somewhat predictable," Cantwell said in a telephone interview last week. "The aviation industry, the folks that own helicopter companies, are not pleased. But generally the reaction from those impacted by the noise seems to be supportive." He said town officials remain open to negotiations with aircraft operators to modify the proposals, as long as it results in fewer noise complaints.

"We're trying to limit the impact on aircraft operations and still get the best result possible," he said.

A coalition of aviation industry leaders and others, which last month filed legal action to limit the town's ability to regulate the airport, reacted derisively to the changes.

"The town has proposed an unprecedented and drastic set of restrictions that would block access to a federally funded airport, discriminate against helicopters and other operators and will likely fail for a variety of reasons," said Loren Riegelhaupt, spokesman for the Friends of East Hampton Airport Coalition, " If enacted, the town board's recommendations would essentially shut down the airport during the summer."

The coalition last month filed two legal complaints seeking to block the town's efforts at cutting traffic to the airport. One filed in federal court argues the Federal Aviation Administration has an obligation to block the town's proposals and the other claims the FAA has not resolved pending safety issues at the airport. An FAA spokesman has declined to comment on the complaints.

The town has stopped receiving FAA grant funding in recent years, and Cantwell claims that gives local officials final word on airport operations. Despite the lack of FAA funding, all airports are required to comply with all federal safety regulations. Cantwell said he and other town representatives plan to meet with FAA officials in Washington later this month to discuss the situation.

"We are troubled that the town board would consider proposals that are so draconian and unlawful," said Kurt Carlson, CEO of Heliflite, a helicopter company based at Newark Liberty Airport that offers flights to East Hampton throughout the summer.

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