Those remotely viewing Tuesday’s meeting of the East Hampton Town Board, which was officially paused for about 40 minutes due to technical difficulties with LTV’s live broadcast, missed some testy exchanges between the board and two residents of Southampton Town, who demanded a change to a recently reinstated flight path to the airport.
There were charges of class favoritism and redlining as Patricia Currie of Noyac and John Kirrane of Sag Harbor angrily denounced the impact of the change on people living beyond East Hampton’s borders. With Teresa McCaskie of Southold Town’s Aircraft Noise Steering Committee, they complained that the reinstatement of the “November” route to the airport, which had been eliminated last year, has brought heavy air traffic back over middle and working class neighborhoods, much to the detriment of their quality of life.
Mr. Kirrane read aloud a letter, addressed to Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, which he said was from Southampton’s Supervisor, Jay Schneiderman, and the Southampton Town Board. “The decision to favor the November route will divert helicopter traffic squarely on the South Fork, negatively impacting our most populated hamlets of Hampton Bays, and also concentrate noise pollution in Water Mill, North Sea, Noyac, Bridgehampton, and other areas,” it said. “To have this route once again operational in 2023 is contrary to the spirt of cooperation and respect for all the residents of the region.”
“We urge you to take whatever action you can,” the letter continued, “to ban or limit the November route and to require helicopters to fly routes that are mainly over water or less populated areas. This would reduce the noise on our communities and greatly improve the quality of life for thousands of East End families, regardless of which side of Town Line Road they reside.”
The reading followed a withering denunciation of the town board by Ms. Currie, who, like Mr. Kirrane, has been a frequent critic of airport noise. She identified herself to board members as “one of tens of thousands of aggrieved victims of your airport operations.” Residents of Hampton Bays, Shelter Island, and Southold and Riverhead Towns “don’t want your airport trash,” she said. “The statement we’ve often heard — ‘We have nothing to do with transition routes to the airport’ — is as hollow as it sounds.”
Like Mr. Kirrane, she referred to a May 16 meeting of the East Hampton board, during which representatives of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, together with Jim Brundige, the airport manager, and Jody Edwards, the tower chief, announced the November route’s reinstatement for 2023. “We learned that the goal was to alleviate noise over East Hampton residents, primarily on the South Shore, the very area where many airport users live,” Ms. Currie said. “They are the abusers of our quality of our life. They need to feel the torment and the pain of your airport. Please, stop dumping your toxic airport trash on the disenfranchised.”
During a discussion with Mr. Kirrane, Mr. Van Scoyoc said the town board had expected the airport to be operating under a prior-permission-required framework once the town took control of it and opened it as a private facility. That plan was thwarted by Justice Paul Baisley Jr.’s imposition of a temporary restraining order in May 2022, which remains in place. “We don’t have control over routes, or where anybody flies, as a town board,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “Presently, the judge in Riverhead is controlling the airport.”
Rather than direct their anger toward the board, he suggested the critics aim it at “those preventing us from being able to execute control.”
But the November route amounts to redlining, said Mr. Kirrane. “I believe it is engineered that way, that you are protecting the people who live in estates on the ocean.”
The back-and-forth continued while the meeting was paused, Mr. Kirrane and Ms. Currie shouting from their seats near the back of the room. “What’s wrong with Amagansett?” Ms. Currie asked, meaning why should planes not be directed to fly over that hamlet. “The same thing that’s wrong with Noyac,” Mr. Van Scoyoc shot back, making the point that displacing traffic from one place is no solution as it would only move it to another.
“You couldn’t engineer a more unfair route than that November route,” Mr. Kirrane said. “There’s no logic to it, other than you’re redlining middle-class communities who don’t have a say in this.”
“There’s no such thing as a fair route,” Mr. Van Scoyoc responded.
Mr. Kirrane reiterated that airport users tend to be wealthy, and the wealthy tend to live closer to the ocean. “I understand what you’re saying,” said Councilwoman Cate Rogers. “What I don’t understand is how you’re not going to the people who set the routes. . . . It’s evident that we are fighting to help eliminate what’s going on at the airport. That’s been a goal, certainly of mine, but this issue is not in my control.”
Noyac “certainly has had a very tough few weeks with the helicopter traffic,” Mr. Kirrane said, along with jets and seaplanes. As the tension in the room lessened, he asked that the board use whatever influence it has to alleviate the noise and pollution of incessant air traffic over out-of-town neighborhoods.
With another summer’s arrival and Justice Baisley’s T.R.O. still in place, that influence appears at best limited. Later in the meeting, Mr. Van Scoyoc again declared that the town had no ability to regulate its own airport.
“Ultimately,” he said, “the only solution is the town eventually gaining the ability to regulate the airport and manage it in a way that reflects the desire of not just East Hampton but those throughout the region.”