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Big guns battling chopper noise issue

REPORTER FILE PHOTO|  An international law firm has been brought in to the helicopter noise issue controversy.
An international law firm has been brought in to the helicopter noise issue controversy.

New battle lines have been drawn in the fight over aircraft noise buzzing through East End communities.

Peter Wolf, an author and expert on land uses, along with Kenneth Lipper, a former deputy mayor of New York City, have hired a top Manhattan law firm to make a case for banning all helicopters and seaplanes from the East Hampton Airport.

They have more than 500 East Hampton residents pledged to support their plans.

“We’re spending our time, effort and money to work on noise mitigation,” Mr. Wolf said.

He and Mr. Lipper have been paying Cravath, Swaine & Moore, an international law firm with more than 100 attorneys, to make the case that East Hampton, once it gains control of airport operations on January 1, can ban the choppers and seaplanes; require all aircraft to meet an established noise level standard; restrict operations from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week and restrict takeoffs and landings to four hours a day.

In a six page opinion, citing legal precedents, attorney David Greenwald of CS&M concluded last week that the restrictions “reflects a reasonable and non-arbitrary approach to the reduction of noise pollution and does not improperly discriminate against aircraft or aircraft operators …”

The volume of traffic to and from New York City to East Hampton increased dramatically last summer because of an improving economy and also through phone apps and ride sharing, providing cheaper flights to and from the Hamptons.

East Hampton lost some control over its airport policy several years ago when the town took Federal Aviation Administration grants, mostly to upgrade infrastructure. The town signed, “grant assurances” with the FAA, and part of that agreement was keeping the airport open to traffic around the clock throughout the year, and not to discriminate against types of aircraft using the facility.

Asked if banning certain aircraft would negatively affect the economy of the East End, Mr. Wolf said no.

“We’re not trying to close the airport,” he said. “We’re not affecting any local jobs. The only thing that banning helicopters does is make it difficult for some commercial operators to ferry people to the South Fork.”

But an organization called the Friends of East Hampton Airport Coalition disagrees. The FEHAC includes the Eastern Region Helicopter Council — a pilot’s organization — along with aviation companies and others, is taking an active role to keep the status quo at the airport.

Mr. Wolf’s economic forecast if helicopters are banned along with other restrictions is short sighted, said Loren Riegelhaupt, a spokesman for the FEHAC.

“Facts are stubborn things,” said Mr. Riegelhaupt, who works for SKDKnickerbocker, an international public relations firm, citing an economic study done last year by New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation and Policy Management that found airport users spent $48 million in 2013 on local businesses.

At the Shelter Island Town Board work session Tuesday, Supervisor Jim Dougherty said he’s not looking to pass a resolution advocating a ban on helicopters at the airport, but the board might pass a resolution Friday banning flights over the Island.

When Planning Board member Emory Breiner asked him how much money he was prepared to spend to enforce such a ban, Mr. Dougherty said Mr. Breiner didn’t understand the proposed resolution.

Mr. Breiner pushed the question, suggesting there could be lawsuits that would have to be defended to enforce a ban.

“You’re out of line,” Mr. Dougherty said, cutting off further conversation.