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North Fork locals fearful of changes to East Hampton’s proposed helicopter noise code

North Fork residents who’ve held out hope for some relief from helicopter noise are fearful that seaplanes could be their next nemesis.

Earlier this month, after months of public outcry, the East Hampton town board discussed four restrictions on its airport aimed at easing the suffering of East End residents long plagued by helicopter noise.

Originally, the proposed new East Hampton local law stated that it would ban all helicopters on weekends, implement a mandatory night curfew from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., as well as an extended curfew for noisy aircraft, from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. and limit operations of noisy aircraft to one trip, or one arrival and one departure, during the summer season.

East Hampton Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said she proposed the restrictions after years of analysis and studies, as well as public outreach and an outcry by residents who say helicopter noise has shattered their peaceful East End life.

But now, according to East Hampton’s Quiet Skies Coalition, the final version of the four local laws has departed from the initial analysis and contains changes that they believe are unwise.

“Those changes relieve noisy turboprop and piston aircraft of a one-round-trip-per-week limitation and an 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. curfew. They seem to us to carry critical practical and legal risk,” the group wrote in a release this week.

The changes do not sit well with Teresa McCaskie of Mattituck, who has long rallied residents in protest, stating that helicopter noise has shattered the bucolic quality of North Fork life.

McCaskie said two of the four proposed laws are exactly the same as initially presented: the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew law and the seasonal weekend ban on helicopters.

The other two laws, however, concerning the shoulder curfew of 8 p.m. to 9 a.m., and the two operations per week frequency limit, or the “one round-trip per week rule” — both restricting “noisy” aircraft — have been changed, she said.

“Noisy aircraft are now defined as only those having an EPNdB noise metric ranking of 91 or higher,” McCaskie said.

The definitions ranking aircraft as noisy according to the SEL and L(max) noise metrics have been deleted, she said. Under the version of the law initially introduced, aircraft that have an SEL ranking of 81 dBA or greater or an L(max) ranking of 81 dBA or greater were also defined as “noisy’ and were subject to the shoulder curfew and the one round trip per week frequency limitation.

“What this means as a practical matter is that noisy turbo prop, or seaplanes, and piston aircraft which are not ranked on the EPNdB noise metric — only jets and helicopters are ranked on the EPNdB metric —are not subject to these access restrictions,” McCaskie said.

“Not covering these other noisy aircraft means that seaplane traffic will likely explode because of the seasonal weekend ban on helicopters and the shoulder curfew imposed on noisy helicopters, and that these two measures are more vulnerable to legal challenge because the shoulder curfew and the one round-trip per week rules no longer apply equally to all noisy aircraft. The board needs to hear from the community that weakening these two laws in this manner is the wrong move,” McCaskie said.

In addition, the QSC said, “it is highly likely that there will be an explosion of seaplane traffic because of the weekend ban on helicopters and the 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. curfew on noisy helicopters. The former helicopter users will just migrate to the seaplanes because the Manhattan seaplane dock at 23rd Street is just down the river, a mere 11 blocks, from the 34th Street heliport. Those relieved of helicopter noise in Noyac, Sag Harbor, Northwest Woods, and Wainscott and those residents relieved of jet noise in East Hampton Village will be the victims of that seaplane explosion. It will be ironic to have solved the jet and helicopter problem if unregulated seaplane traffic explodes.”

In addition, the QSC wrote that different treatment of helicopters and jets in favor of seaplanes could be difficult to defend in court against “predictable helicopter interests’ claims of unjust discrimination. If the town were to lose that issue in court, the whole noise control program could fail, with untoward and possibly unpredictable public relations, public confidence, and political consequences.”
The QSC said they believed that it is “imperative” that the board review the newly enacted local laws, once adopted and amend them as soon as possible “o as to impose the one-round-trip-per-week limitation and the 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. curfew on noisy turboprop and piston aircraft. Such an early local law amendment would save many East Hampton and other East End residents from the seaplane explosion and also would very clearly crimp any litigators’ claim of unjust discrimination.”

McCaskie added, “To close the door on one noisy commercial aircraft business and to open it for another noisy aircraft is not the answer.”

Seaplane pilots can fly as low as 500 feet over ‘open fields”‘ and open water not near populated boating or swimming areas. Otherwise pilots are permitted to fly at 1000 feet over ‘congested’ areas,” such as schools, McCaskie said. “The East Hampton town board needs to adapt the rulings as they were proposed on February 4, which would alleviate the noisy/noisiest commercial aircraft. Only then will residents on both forks will get the much-needed relief that is sorely needed.”

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell could not immediately be reached for comment.

Residents, they said, should make an effort to attend the public hearing on the proposed regulations on Thursday, March 5 at LTV Studios in Wainscott, beginning at 4:30 p.m.