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Court rules East Hampton can’t impose restrictions on choppers



The East Hampton Town Board’s effort to restrict helicopters and other so-called “noisy” aircraft into and out of its airport was dealt a serious blow by a federal appeals court on Friday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit) in Manhattan, voted 3-0 on Friday to reverse the lower court’s decision, and said the town had no right to impose the restrictions.

After years of aviation noise complaints from East End residents, including Shelter Island, caused by commuter flights from Manhattan, East Hampton’s board passed legislation in April 2015 imposing a complete shut down of flights into or out of the airport from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and banned choppers and the noisy aircraft from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. It also passed a town law limiting noisy aircraft to a single landing and takeoff each week during the summer season.

Since then the issue has been the subject of several lawsuits. Businesses associated with the aviation industry and a helicopter pilot organization sued on restraint of trade arguments and that the town had superseded federal authority on aviation.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty, a firm advocate for limiting access to the airport, said that the court’s verdict is “a crushing defeat for East Hampton and a terrible setback for its neighbors, including Shelter Island.”

The supervisor added that “the court held that the federal bureaucracy and not local government, which owns the airport, controls all regulations in the area of noise abatement and control. The [Federal Aviation Administration] and Congress are in charge.”

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr.(I-Sag Harbor), who represents the South Fork and Shelter Island said in a statement: “I respectfully disagree with the decision of the Court. The Town of East Hampton is the owner of the airport. Like all property owners they have a responsibility to insure that their property is not used in a way that is injurious to the public health and safety of its residents. That is what the Town of East Hampton did with the enactment of its local laws.”

Kathleen Cunningham, co-chair of the East Hampton-based Quiet Skies Coalition, said, “I’m stunned, to be honest. I never imagined that the right to home rule could be so undermined by the federal government. We’ll have to go back to the drawing board to begin working on real solutions to the environmental challenges this airport causes.”

The Reporter contacted a representative of the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council for comment  — one of the organizations fighting the restrictions — Monday morning but hasn’t received a response.