Suffolk Closeup: Chopper meeting wrap up

REPORTER FILE PHOTO The East Hampton Town Board is weighing public comments before voting on aircraft restrictions.
The East Hampton Town Board is weighing public comments before voting on aircraft restrictions.

The battle over noise from helicopters flying between Manhattan and East Hampton Airport is reaching a governmental crescendo.

The new East Hampton Town Board has come up with a set of tough regulations to quell the racket and a public hearing held March 12 epitomized the intensity of the issue.

Because several hundred people were expected, the board held the meeting in a large space: the auditorium at LTV Studios in Wainscott.

Anticipating problems with parking, I arrived 15 minutes early. The parking lot was already full with many police officers on hand directing traffic. Cars were parked for blocks along the road in front of the television facility. I parked three blocks away.

Walking, I thought of having covered many public hearings in my 50 years as a journalist on Long Island, but never before needing to park blocks away from a hearing site.

The folks at the hearing were from all over eastern Long Island. As Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski of Southold testified, he represents a legislative district that starts on Fishers Island and extends west through the North Fork and Riverhead Town deep into Brookhaven Town —“Otherwise known as the flight path.”

On hand at the hearing was a Shelter Island contingent including Supervisor Jim Dougherty who told the East Hampton Town Board that its proposed rules were “thoughtful, balanced and courageous.”

Mr. Krupski, who used to represent the Island, which as of last year began being represented in the Suffolk County Legislature by Jay Schneiderman, congratulated the East Hampton board for “having the courage to address this regional issue.” Mr. Krupski advised: “Don’t be bullied by anybody. This is your town, this is your airport and you should make the rules.”

On the other hand, Andrew Sabin challenged the proposed regulations. He said “one reason” his Sabin Metal Corporation “located here” in East Hampton “is the airport. We are users of it.”

He said “we all agree that something must be done about helicopter noise” but “these rules are unreasonable.” Sabin, founder and president of the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton, claimed that “it would not surprise me” if involved in the anti-noise effort are “owners of land” near the field who want to “get top-dollar to subdivide” and develop their properties.

Person after person, each given three minutes, testified and the hearing went on for hours.

Among the most poignant testimony, I thought, was that of Frank Dalene of Wainscott. “I am a pilot,” he began. Still, he founded the East Hampton Helicopter Noise Coalition and co-founded the Quiet Skies Coalition. He went on, declaring that “the only effective way to reduce aircraft noise is to restrict and limit” aircraft traffic.

He said of the campaign being waged against the proposed rules: “The profiteers and carpetbaggers from New Jersey flying their magic carpets … impacted by these regulations have pulled out all stops, sending their attack dogs to fabricate personal attacks, invent conspiracy theories, promote baseless fear-mongering and absurd doomsday scenarios about the real estate market, local economy and closure of the airport.”

He explained that he was “in the construction business” and “no industry in East Hampton has faced more regulations.”

“I vividly recall,” Mr. Dalene added, “when Assemblyman Fred Thiele’s office called me to support the 2 percent transfer tax” on significant real estate transactions, the base of the Community Preservation Fund to preserve open space and farmland. “I immediately said yes, and was ostracized for many years by the Long Island organization that was opposed to it. I am being ostracized now for my position on this issue by my fellow pilots.”

He asked “this board to have courage, stay the course and implement the regulations as you have proposed them so millions of people on Long Island and thousands in this town will have meaningful relief from the torture and torment we have endured for far too long.”

The proposed regulations include a ban on all helicopter traffic between noon Thursday to noon Monday between May 1 and September 30 and a limit during this period of one round-trip a week of any aircraft defined as noisy by FAA sound standards.

“Relieve us of the oppressive burden of airport noise that ruins our summer days and evenings, interrupts our sleep and assaults us in our homes,” asked Susan McGraw Keber of East Hampton, describing an “out-of-control airport.”

Will the East Hampton Town Board adopt the rules? I predict: yes.