Air to Sea (10/11/12)


If there’s one take away that came from our meeting coverage this week it’s this — air traffic in the Sag Harbor area is not going away anytime soon.

Helicopters, airplanes, seaplanes … you name it. As pilots ferry their passengers to and from various destinations on the East End they all want to land and take off in our immediate vicinity, using either East Hampton airport or the waters near Sag Harbor as their runway.

The airplane’s been around since 1903 when those two brothers from Dayton, Ohio figured out how to get a mass of wood and canvas airborne, and planes have been coming and going out here for years.

But never quite in the same numbers we’ve seen lately.

Though still out of reach for the majority of us, flying to the East End seems to be more affordable than it has ever been. One thing’s for sure — it’s definitely become more disturbing to residents.

In neighborhoods east of Haven’s Beach, seaplanes are the issue. Particularly, exactly where they are allowed to be in Sag Harbor waters. Seaplanes are supposed to be excluded from landing or taking off in areas within the village’s harbor management zone. But here’s the problem — there’s no map at village hall or at the East Hampton Airport to designate exactly where that is. Without it how are residents, let along pilots, supposed to know where seaplanes can travel?

In fact, with an increase in the numbers of seaplanes, along with swimmers and boaters in the area, it’s a safety issue. By law, in Sag Harbor seaplanes have to operate at least 1,500 feet from shore. With a seaplane company now working (legally by the way) from a mooring just beyond that zone, it’s important Harbor Master Bob Bori work with pilots to educate them about where they can and can’t be for safety and tranquility sake. Bori is up to the task and has already made the suggestion that pilots should be encouraged to operate even further out from Sag Harbor, perhaps off Barcelona Neck where there are fewer boaters and swimmers.

On the East Hampton airport side of the equation, Southampton residents have been plagued for years by noise, both from planes and, more recently, helicopters. When it comes to air traffic, it often feels like much is out of our control. The FAA gives full discretion to pilots — the only thing towns can control is where planes land and take off in their jurisdiction. The rest is up in the air, so to speak.

So we’re encouraged to see Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Councilwoman Christine Scalera take such a proactive role in this issue. Despite the fact the airport is not in their jurisdiction, Throne-Holst and Scalera have gone to great lengths to pull together elected officials, representatives from the FAA, pilots, airport personnel, and residents active in the noise mitigation to come to the same table to work on a solution.

While we haven’t yet heard anything substantive about how relief be realized, when it comes to aircraft noise, what’s important is the fact that Throne-Holst and Scalera have taken a larger role in this discussion. We have also been pleased to see East Hampton Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley have, this far, agreed something has to be done for the residents of Southampton and beyond. Village and town officials, as well as elected officials at the county, state and federal level in the form of Legislator Jay Schneiderman, Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Congressman Tim Bishop are also keenly tuned into this effort, asking questions of their own about what can be done.

It represents a huge step forward and we appreciate it. We also understand that taking on the FAA is something that requires a tremendous effort. But we have to use the tools we have at hand — be it alternative routes, curbing the number of flights that can use the airport or the minimum altitude at which helicopters can fly.

No, it’s not easy. But we’re on our way.

And as Janice LoRusso, a longtime resident of Noyac who is now beleaguered by helicopters flying over her house on the North Fork, said at Tuesday’s Noyac Civic Council meeting, “I see this as a David and Goliath thing. We are the Davids and we just gotta get a bigger rock.”