East Hampton Appeals Federal Court Injunction

Planes and helicopters landing at the East Hampton Airport over Memorial Day weekend. Photo by Michael Heller.
Planes and helicopters landing at the East Hampton Airport over Memorial Day weekend. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Mara Certic 

Less than three weeks after two curfews went into place at the East Hampton Airport, the town board on Thursday, July 22, appealed a federal injunction that has stopped it from implementing a third measure that many thought would be a more effective in controlling aircraft noise.

That measure would have limited aircraft deemed as noisy to a single landing and takeoff each week.

Following the adoption of the three laws in April, a group of aviators filed suit in federal court, claiming that they were discriminatory and would cause irreparable harm.

On Friday, June 26, Federal District Court Judge Joanna Seybert upheld the town’s authority to impose restrictions and the two curfews, but issued an injunction against the one-trip limit, saying that there was no indication that a less restrictive measure could not have alleviated the noise issue.

“We believe all three laws are lawful and necessary to protect the quality of life on the East End,” said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell in a press release issued last week.

“These three laws are the result of careful, thoughtful, and transparent balancing by the town board. We are hopeful that the Court of Appeals will recognize that all three laws are essential to address the problem of excessive aircraft noise.”

The release stated that the three restrictions were intended to work together to provide noise relief, and that the one-trip law is “an integral part” of the town’s plan, and was designed to limit the noisiest and most disturbing trips.

The town has yet to publish any reports on aircraft activity around the airport this summer, but this week airport manager Jemille Charlton said that a report was in the hands of the town board and would likely soon be released to the public.

He could not give any details about the report, but said that since July, “really the biggest difference is just the curfews—they’re not flying at night.” There have been some curfew violators, he added. The number of flights hasn’t decreased in any way, he said, which means that there is the same amount of traffic flowing during a much shorter timeframe.

Kathleen Cunningham, co-president of the Quiet Skies Coalition, agreed and said that while there have been some people violating the curfew, “nights are quieter, which is nice.”

“With the shorter hours of operation, it compresses the same number of operations into a smaller window and it’s unbearable,” she said. “It’s so clear that we need at least the once-a-week rule if not the complete weekend ban.”

The town tabled a fourth restriction last spring, which would have banned helicopters from flying in and out of the airport over the weekend, and Ms. Cunningham is calling for the board to reconsider that law.

Mr. Charlton said noisy helicopters and jets, for the most part, have not reduced the number of trips they make to the airport each week. “They’re coming in and out of here nonstop,” he said, adding that some aircraft are spotted coming and going five or six times in a single day.

And complaints, Mr. Charlton said, are “way up.” Residents of the North Fork, in particular, have been filing lots of complaints about air traffic. On Monday morning when Mr. Charlton got to work he had seven messages from residents complaining on his voicemail. He said he cannot personally handle all of the noise complaints, and said those who wish to file formal complaints should do so online or by calling 1-800-376-4817.

In the same press release sent out last week, the town announced it had hired attorney Kathleen Sullivan to assist its legal team in its appeal. Those supporting the restrictions have been critical of the town’s aviation attorney, Peter Kirsch, and have been calling for new counsel for some time.

“It’s excellent. That’s the best thing they’ve done,” said Ms. Cunningham said about the decision to hire Ms. Sullivan. “Kathleen is at the top of her game, I applaud them for doing that and I’m grateful that they chose her. We have reason to have full confidence in her.”