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Anarchy and Chaos

Appeared in East Hampton Star 9/17/09

Dear Editor,

I started collecting data on observations of helicopter traffic around East Hampton Airport on Memorial Day weekend 2008. I began calling in to the Noise Complaint Hotline not only as a result of noise but observations of unsafe operations of helicopters flying in fog and low cloud conditions at tree-top-levels. On the Friday before Memorial Day of 2008 I was coming home from work down Industrial Road. When I came upon the airport I noticed it was fogged in to the extent I could not see the end of the runway. I ducked as a helicopter took off and flew fifty feet above my vehicle. I remember thinking this pilot was a total nut flying in these conditions. I continued to see him fly south at tree-top-level until he was swallowed up in fog. I turned left on Daniel’s Hole Road heading north at the airport entrance I saw another helicopter taking off and shook my head. I drove up my driveway and parked. As I got out of my vehicle I heard a deafening sound, looked up and only saw the belly of a helicopter. My immediate thought was the helicopter was coming down so I jumped and literally hit the ground. From that moment on I understood that one day a tragic accident was inevitable and I was not going to stand by and do nothing.

I live 1.3 miles north of East Hampton Airport along the Airport Road (Daniel’s Hole Road or Wainscott Northwest Road) and lived there for over twenty five years. When I built my house and many years thereafter the airport was simply a private airport used primarily by private aircraft owners. That is no longer the case. The use has expanded exponentially into a commercial enterprise of helicopters, seaplanes and jets ferrying passengers to and from the Hamptons. The intensity of the expansion of use is so much greater than what is permitted by local code for other business activities that it will become impossible for the town to enforce its ordinances without the other businesses crying foul for discriminatory practices or hypocritical enforcement.

I realized a childhood dream by seeking flying instructions and in four months received my pilot’s license at East Hampton Airport. I purchased a Piper Warrior in Sedona Arizona, flew it across the country and kept it at East Hampton Airport for ten years. I don’t want to see the airport close down however the unsafe operations of aircraft in and around the East Hampton Town airspace is critical and according to my observations it is not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when” an accident will occur similar to what recently occurred over the East River.

The FAA is unwilling to monitor or enforce regulations in and around East Hampton Town airspace. The airport manager and East Hampton Town is powerless to enforce any regulations in East Hampton Town airspace. Helicopters are not required to follow minimum altitude regulations that fixed wing aircraft must follow. There is anarchy and chaos in the airspace over East Hampton Town. It is akin to not having a police force or DMV laws on the roads in and around East Hampton Town. For that reason alone the airport must be shut down until law and order can be restored.

To add insult to injury, in the recently adopted noise law, the Town of East Hampton excluded aircraft from the noise law The exemption preempts the Town from enforcing noise requirements on aircraft. It also preempts ordinary citizens from prosecuting civil claims against operators of aircraft that violate the East Hampton Town Noise Law. The Town of East Hampton must remove the aircraft exclusion from the law since it is self serving, a conflict of interest and discriminatory to allow business operations that ferry passengers to generate noise in excess of 65dB and not allow bars or restaurants that only play music. In my opinion music is not noise however it is indisputable that helicopters generate horrible noise. Noise levels cannot exceed 65dB from 7am-7pm and 50dB from 7pm-7am the following day in residential districts. The data I will present the Town and that is available at: www.ehhelicopternoise.com records almost 400 entries of sound levels from 75dB-90dB. That is only when I am home and one location impacted by noise. This clearly is an outrage and it is inhumane to subject residential property owners to the deafening bombardment of noise from above, the continuous, abusive and persistent harassment caused by helicopter traffic. Any reasonable person must conclude that this insanity must stop.

Based on my observations, the majority of helicopter pilots are cowboys and I don’t use that word lightly. They will scoot under low cloud layers and fog, flying at tree-top-level to get their passengers to East Hampton Airport. There is no consideration for the safety of their passengers or people on the ground. They do not care that their helicopters are blasting residential homes with 75-90dB of percussive noise from their rotors. They do not care about or respect residential property owners, for that reason alone, their operations must cease and if closing the airport is the only solution to cease those operations then the airport must be closed.

East Hampton Town zoning laws only take into consideration horizontal zoning. The zoning laws separate commercial and industrial properties from residential properties due to the impacts of commercial and industrial use; one of those impacts is noise. Commercial and industrial operations must undergo a vigorous approval process that sometimes takes years and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete. The Town Zoning laws do not take into consideration vertical zoning and it must. In the airspace above the Town of East Hampton commercial operations of aircraft are allowed to impact residential neighborhoods with persistent percussive noise at sound levels of 75-90dB that far exceeds what is allowable according to the noise ordinance. It occurs during all hours of the night and early morning. The commercial operations of ferrying people to and from East Hampton have not received any level of approvals or scrutiny. What is worse the Town of East Hampton is allowing them to operate on their own property. Without a question that is blatant discriminatory zoning practices by East Hampton Town. Every business owner and operator in the Town of East Hampton should be up in arms and fit to be tied. It is shameful.

I am a contractor. If I am aware of an unsafe condition on the jobsite, do nothing to correct the unsafe condition and someone injures themselves as a result of that unsafe condition I may be found guilty of gross negligence as a result. I have called in observations of unsafe operations of helicopters since May, 2008. Unfortunately I misplaced or lost my copy of the data for June and July of 2008 however the logs for the noise hotline contain the data from my calls. Thursday night I will present thirteen months of data to the Town Board at the public hearing for the airport GEIS. My report to the Town of East Hampton and the accompanying data can be found on the following website: www.ehhelicopternoise.com . The data shows that I made thirty four (34) calls regarding unsafe operations of helicopters flying at tree-top-level. It is indisputable that flying tree-top-level is unsafe yet the Town of East Hampton, FAA and airport manager have failed to correct the unsafe condition. The Town Board has the power to shut down the airport due to unsafe conditions. The safety of aircraft and airspace is in the jurisdiction of the FAA.  The airport should be closed immediately until the FAA takes on the responsibility to keep the airspace above East Hampton Town safe.

The draft GEIS does not represent the reality of real life experiences of the residents in East Hampton or the rest of Long Island. East Hampton has become a nuisance and a bad neighbor to all the residents of Long Island as a result of the helicopter traffic and noise. Complaints occur all over Long Island. The insanity must stop. Over time it will only intensify and become more of a problem. End it now.

East Hampton Airport is located directly in the middle of the south fork. It is impossible to bring helicopters into the airport without impacting residential properties. There is a solution: Route all helicopters, seaplanes and commercial aircraft 1-2 miles offshore and then into Montauk airport. The helicopters will not fly over residential properties to land in East Hampton Town and a twenty minute car ride for the passengers should not be too much to ask since it will be better than no helicopters at all. East Hampton Airport will then return to its original state as a private airport for private aircraft owners. The Town can save its money by not expanding airport operations and the GEIS will be more representative of airport activities and then it can get approved.

HD video of helicopters flying tree-top-level will be able to be viewed on the website as well.

We should make this a campaign issue. We wish to hear from the candidates on this issue.

Frank

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