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Northwest Comprehensive Coordinating Committee Letter to James Brundage

TO:
James Brundage, Manager
East Hampton Airport

Dear Mr. Brundage,

On behalf of the Northwest Comprehensive Coordinating Committee, an East Hampton Town Committee charged with coordinating the environmental activities of public and private agencies in the Northwest Woods area of East Hampton, I am writing to encourage you to urgently pursue a renegotiation of the flight paths used by helicopters to approach and leave from East Hampton Airport. Currently, the major incoming flight path traverses the length of Northwest Creek, an area that is almost entirely protected as a nature preserve. This area now absorbs approximately 45 % of the total helicopter traffic into and out of the Airport. Further, the altitude requirement for this route is set at 2000 feet at the ferry dock at North Haven and allows a reduction in altitude from there to the airport. Thus the altitude over the Creek is not precisely regulated and it is the impression of observers that the range of actual flight altitudes over the Creek includes many flights well below 2000 ft. Our Committee has heard concerns about the grave impact of concussive helicopter noise on a natural area that the Town, County and State have gone to great effort and expense to preserve. In addition to disturbing the beauty and serenity of this area, the dramatic recent increase in helicopter noise could very well do damage to wildlife.

A 2003 review published in the journal Environmental Management (Pepper, Nascarella, & Kendall, 2003, Environmental Management, 32,4, pp 418-423) has provided evidence that airport noise is disturbing to wildlife, just as it is to humans. The “masking” effect of airport noise can interfere with the auditory capabilities of animals upon which they depend for hunting, predatory defense, and communication. Thus some animals like geese are affected more than others. The behavioral effects of airport noise are known to be particularly problematic when they are applied from directly overhead in areas that are exposed rather than forested. Clearly this applies unfavorably to the practice of routing helicopters directly over the open Northwest Creek wetlands. Under these conditions, animals, particularly flock nesting birds like the “endangered” Piping Plovers and the “threatened” Least Terns which nest at the Creek every year have been shown to be affected particularly severely when rearing offspring.

On the basis of these data and our concern for preserving the hard won protections for the environment and wildlife of the Northwest Creek area, it our view that very effort should be made to restrict the flow of helicopter traffic in this area. Primarily we strongly encourage the redirection of helicopters over the Georgica Pond route. While the Georgica Pond area does have wildlife, it is not a nature preserve. Further, the overland portion of this route is more than a mile shorter than the Northwest Creek route and over four miles shorter than the Jessup Neck route. Finally, current practice directs less than 10% of flights over this route, making it regrettably underutilized.

If it remains necessary to maintain a northern route for some traffic then we would urge the following two modifications of the current Northwest Creek route. First, the approach route should be deflected to the west so that it passes over the western shore of Barcelona Neck. This area has is not known to have nesting sites of endangered or threatened species and is generally less environmentally sensitive. Second, we would request that the altitude requirement be increased to 2500 feet and be enforced through to the southern border of the Creek nature preserve area. This would allow a 2 mile distance from the airport over which the helicopters could descend.

We very much appreciate your consideration of this matter and we are eager to continue this discussion in any way you might find useful.

Sincerely yours,

T. James Matthews, Chair.

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