The efforts of Long Island, New York’s Town of East Hampton to quell aircraft noise involving the town-owned airport have been negated by a federal appeals court. This has resulted in a move to have the town shut down its airport and open the more than 600 acres for other uses.
It’s an issue affecting many people on Long Island. Helicopters particularly, ferrying passengers between Manhattan and East Hampton, have been flying loud and low over the length of the island creating a terrible racket for folks from Nassau County through western and central Suffolk County and then Suffolk’s East End. Each of those counties have a population of 1.3 million. Thus the East Hampton Airport became during the warm-weather months Long Island’s biggest noisemaker.
With the court’s ruling, “we will again be subject to noise disturbance at any time of day or night,” says Patricia Currie of Noyac, a co-founder of the new group Say NO to KHTO. (KHTO is the airport’s aviation designation.)
East Hampton is seeking to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ruling. That may be a long shot. “We cannot let stand unchallenged a decision that completely federalizes our small community airport and strips the town of any meaningful local control of the town-owned airport,” said East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell following the November ruling. Laying out East Hampton’s priorities for 2017 at the town board’s organizational meeting last month, Cantwell said: “The town’s diligent efforts to gain local control of the East Hampton Airport through a thoughtful process and adoption of local laws was thwarted by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals nullifying local restrictions.” He said that “absent a lawful strategy to significantly reduce noise, the future of the airport is likely to be called into question,”
And that—with Say No to KHTO—is what is happening. “This huge tract of commercially-zoned land can better serve our community in a variety of ways,” says Barry Raebeck of Wainscott, with Currie a founder of Say No to KHTO, and its chairman. “The airport is being operated at a huge cost to the community in lost jobs and lost dollars. We are actually subsidizing the destruction of our own environment and quality of life—simply to benefit the handful of commercial operators…This land could be used for wind and solar power generation, for affordable housing, for parks and recreation, and for low-impact businesses… Communities across the country are struggling against unwanted and unnecessary aircraft intrusion. East Hampton should once again be in the forefront of such socially sensitive and environmentally responsible efforts,” declares Raebeck.
The website of Say No to KHTO (www.saynotokhto.com) says: “KHTO has become a hub for out-of-state air taxi operators peddling lucrative Hamptons flights, wine included… Our group consists of noise-affected residents from communities across the East End and those living in western Suffolk and Nassau Counties, up to 100 miles from KHTO, East Hampton’s noisy polluting airport.” Say No to KHTO challenges what it describes as a “myth” that the field is economically important to East Hampton. It provides “about 25 jobs” and “generates no revenue for the town or its people.” All its income must be used at the airport. The town “could earn $10 million to $15 million per year, perhaps more, if the property were put to other uses,” says the group.
The East Hampton Airport noise issue has been hot for years. In 2015, aviation interests poured $250,000 into the campaigns of two town board candidates they considered supportive. Both were overwhelmingly defeated. The board thereafter voted on a set of restrictions that included an overnight curfew and limited hours for takeoffs and landings by aircraft which Federal Aviation Administration standards rate as “noisy.” The legislation noted that the year before there were a whopping 24,000 complaints about noise from aircraft using the field. “Noise complaints at East Hampton Airport far exceeded the level of complaints at major airports around the country,” it said. A U.S. District Court first heard the case brought by aviation interests and modified some of the restrictions. But the aviation interests still wanted the entire law eliminated and the federal appeals court in Manhattan complied citing “federal preemption.”
The legislation noted that the year before there were a whopping 24,000 complaints about noise from aircraft using the field.
There have been moves elsewhere to close municipal airports. Santa Monica, California, because of noise, has been moving to shut down that city’s airport. Chicago got rid of its Meigs Field in 2003—despite bitter opposition of aviation interests. Mayor Richard Daley “ordered city crews to destroy the runway immediately by bulldozing large X-shaped gouges,” relates an Internet account. The next day he “defended” his action saying “it would save the city the effort of further court battles.” What was Meigs Field is now a park featuring a 7,500-seat pavilion for music concerts, strolling paths and a beach.
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor, an attorney, disagrees with the ruling, issuing a statement that “the court has expanded federal control at the expense of local government, eroding the concept of home rule. In doing so, the court has now raised the question of whether or not the Town of East Hampton should be in the ‘airport business’ at all. The health and safety of its residents must always take precedence over commercial enterprise.” The ruling “causes all responsible persons to first reconsider whether or not the town should be in the airport business.”