By Stephen J. Kotz
Just a week after East Hampton Town released a preliminary report that showed nearly across-the-board reductions in the number of airport noise complaints it has received through July, a new organization has emerged with the goal of closing the facility.
On Monday, Barry Raebeck, a longtime airport opponent and co-founder of the Quiet Skies Coalition, said he had created Say No To KHTO to explore “environmentally friendly and far more equitable community use” of the 628 acres of town land that is home to East Hampton Airport. The organization’s name is derived from the airport’s call letters.
Mr. Raebeck, who lives near the airport, said he had taken the step because efforts to reduce airport traffic, and the noise and pollution that comes with it, had fallen short of the mark.
The idea of closing the airport is an idea that has lingered in the shadows for years, he said, and for too long, those affected by the noise of jets, helicopters, and — increasingly of late — seaplanes have danced around the issue for fear of being seen as unreasonable.
“Of course, I want to shut it down,” he said. “It does me no good and causes me endless irritation.”
“It’s an economic and environmental disaster that only serves a handful of people who are backwards when it comes to caring about the environment and caring about the community,” he added.
Mr. Raebeck, who pointed out that the town is able to lease land it owns on Industrial Road near the airport for up to $50,000 an acre, said the town could be looking at a potential huge revenue stream if it were to lease a portion of the property for low-impact, environmentally friendly businesses that are in dire need of space. And if the airport were closed, he added, the revenue could be put in the general fund, reducing taxes for all residents. Now revenue generated from the airport is required to be used for airport purposes only.
The airport would also provide space for a major solar or wind farm to help the town achieve its sustainable energy goals, Mr. Raebeck said. Another potential use for a portion of the property is for recreational fields and hiking trails, he said.
Finally, if the town were willing to take the necessary steps to provide a proper wastewater treatment facility, the airport could provide space for much needed affordable housing, he said.
Mr. Raebeck admitted his idea might seem like a pipe dream to many, but he said that was also the case when opponents of the Shoreham nuclear power plant first organized it to prevent it from opening in the 1980s.
He added that helicopters and seaplanes that ferry well-heeled commuters to and from New York City are having an impact on a growing number of people from Southampton to the North Fork and along the north shore of Long Island all the way to Queens, turning the matter from a local to a regional issue.
Predictably, Mr. Raebeck said he was not impressed by preliminary figures released by the town on August 16 that reported declines in the number of flights as well as complaints accompanying them.
“It’s nonsense to say anyone who is affected adversely by the airport is happier this summer than the past,” he said. “I don’t give them a lot of credence. I don’t trust our town officials.”
He added that many residents have thrown up their hands in frustration and simply stopped filing complaints “because nobody is listening.”
Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez gave a brief presentation on the number of flights and complaints associated with them when the town board met on August 16.
Although the number of flights year-to-date has risen by 3 percent over last year, overall noise complaints fell by 56 percent, she said.
The number of helicopter operations has dipped by 10 percent, but the number of jets flights were up by 15 percent and the number of turboprop flights, which includes seaplanes, were up by 11 percent.
Overall complaints were down 56 percent year-to-date over last year, which, in turn, were down 47 percent, from 2014, according to the town.
Jet noise complaints dropped by 53 percent year-to-date over last year, while helicopter complaints decreased by 60 percent. Although they were down 26 percent this year as compared to the first half of last year, the number of seaplane complaints has soared by 151 percent since 2014, the town found.
“The town is not waving the flag of complete success here,” said Supervisor Larry Cantwell on Friday. “I think the conditions have slightly improved, but there are still too many people being negatively impacted and we continue to be concerned about noise.”
Mr. Cantwell stressed the town would not reach any conclusions about its efforts to control noise until it had an opportunity to review a full year’s worth of data.
Separately, U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin on Monday issued a pair of press releases this week criticizing the Federal Aviation Administration for extending the so-called North Shore route, which sends helicopters over the North Fork, for four years. In a second release, he stated that he had spoken with Senator Charles Schumer about strategies they could explore to convince the FAA to alter the route.