Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. addressed the town board and the public at the presentation of the Phase 1 Noise Analysis Interim Report on Thursday morning.
By Mara Certic
The analysts studying the aircraft noise problem at East Hampton Airport presented the first stage of their noise study last Thursday. They said what many airport critics have claimed in the past few years: The vast majority of helicopter pilots are not complying with voluntary noise abatement procedures, and the number of instances in which noise exceeds the recommended limits is astronomically high.
In response, the Friends of the East Hampton Airport sent out a letter on Wednesday, November 5, calling on the Suffolk County comptroller to conduct a thorough review of the $60,000 of public funds that were used to conduct this study.
The town’s aviation attorney, Peter Kirsch, and analysts Les Blomberg, Henry Young and Peter Wadsworth presented the Phase 1 Noise Analysis Interim Report on East Hampton Airport to the East Hampton Town Board and the public on the morning of Thursday, October 30.
“This is the kind of process that usually goes on very quietly,” Mr. Kirsch said, explaining the town board has been adamant about involving the community and seeking public comment at every opportunity.
Using a plethora tools and graphs, Mr. Blomberg, of Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, showed the board and a group of concerned citizens how different factors contribute to the noise problem on the East End. The noise problem is at its worst during summer months, with operations and complaints peaking on Friday and Sunday evenings and early Monday mornings.
When trying to determine the rate of helicopter compliance with the voluntary noise abatement routes, Mr. Blomberg first found that he did not have the data for approximately 40 percent of helicopter flights.
Without that missing data, Mr. Blomberg found that overall only 15.3 percent of helicopter pilots comply with height restrictions and the voluntary noise abatement routes. Of those arriving over Georgica Pond, 37.7 percent comply with voluntary procedures, he said, but that is by far the highest rate of compliance. Only 1.9 percent of those departing over Jessup’s Neck in Noyac are complying with the voluntary measures, and just 3.9 percent of helicopters leaving over Barcelona Point east of Sag Harbor are following those guidelines.
The Friends of East Hampton Airport called the study “wildly misleading and inaccurate” in a release accompanying a letter to Supervisor Larry Cantwell. According to the airport supporters, the compliance data presented on Thursday is “entirely incorrect” and claimed the town’s records show higher levels of compliance.
Mr. Blomberg identified every parcel within 10 miles of the airport and then, using the noise criteria from the East Hampton Town Code, determined every time an aircraft caused a noise “exceedance” for each property — the number of times each parcel experiences a noise impact over the limit.
Using this model, Mr. Blomberg found that in 2013, properties within 10 miles of the airport were affected by aircraft noise that measured above town code levels a total of 31.8 million times. This comes down to noise exceeding the daytime limit of 65 decibels 16.7 million times, and going over 50 decibels between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. 15.1 million times.
“There was no operation that did not exceed the noise ordinance at some point,” Mr. Blomberg said, but added the “rattle” effect of helicopters draws more attention to their noise, and is often found to be more annoying.
The Friends of the East Hampton Airport criticized the analysts for using this data, claiming, “this inflammatory data purported to show millions of “exceedances” of the town’s noise ordinance. There is no community in the United States that bases aviation noise restrictions on such measures because federal law has preempted the regulation of aviation noise.”
The letter also said the use of data from 2013 rather than 2014 is “intentionally misleading, and at the very least, it shows that the Noise Study’s results are hopelessly flawed and unusable.”
Supervisor Cantwell on Wednesday said the decision to use last year’s data was because “the analysis has been ongoing and the 2014 year is not complete. The consultants chose one full complete year of data and that was 2013.”
Mr. Wadsworth, the only volunteer analyst, conducted a study of the noise complaints. From January to September of this year, air traffic control showed there were 22,350 flight operations in and out of the airport. In the same period of time there have been 22,700 complaints. The vast majority of those complaints were for helicopter operations, which only account for one third of all aircraft operations.
By looking at where each complaint came from, Mr. Wadsworth determined most airport noise complaints come from the Town of Southampton. At 23 percent, most of the complaints came from Noyac, followed by Sag Harbor at 17 percent, Shelter Island at 15 percent and the North Fork at 13 percent. Another 12.5 percent of all complaints come from the East Hampton side of Sag Harbor, he said.
The analysis of complaints also angered the Friends of the East Hampton Airport, who said the data was meaningless unless the number of complainants, and how many times each person complained was included.
Mr. Wadsworth’s study did not include the number of times each person called, but page six of his presentation was dedicated to a graph showing the number of households per town that filed complaints.
The Friends of the East Hampton Airport said the data was unreliable also because it doesn’t “mention anywhere that the town ran ads asking people to call in.”
“Of course, when people want to make a complaint we want to make that system available to them,” Supervisor Cantwell said on Wednesday. “And when we have a complaint line we like to make people aware of it.”
One of the most common grievances of those troubled by aircraft noise is the lengthy and difficulty complaint process. In recent meetings, residents from East Hampton, Southampton and even the North Fork have said they have “given up” calling the complaint hotline.
“It’s hardly surprising to me that the Friends of the East Hampton Airport would be critical of what we’re trying to do,” Mr. Cantwell said, but added: “We’re always happy to have the suggestions and recommendations of the helicopter industry and from Save East Hampton Airport.”
The town is actively seeking public comment on the aircraft noise problem asks written comments be submitted to HTOcomments@EhamptonNY.gov.